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Shaila Saint | The Balanced Mom Magazine

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by Shaila Saint, M.ED and Mollie Bennett

We are in the final days of September as this article is submitted. So let’s see…kids back to school?…check. Some sort of a system and schedule in place for extra curricular activities?…at least half a check. So can we take a breath and get to know our new driving routes, before being lured off the road to buy Halloween costumes, turkey roasters, and Hanukkah napkins?

Not likely. The unrelenting marketing madness has begun, and it can make us feel like we’ve fallen behind, we will never get it all done, and we will always be out of balance. Add the anticipation of out-of-town guests or long travel days, financial constraints, and family drama, and ho ho NO , the bells don’t sound quite so jingly. Ideally, this out-of-sorts feeling is not the way we want to start the season.

While we may never be totally immune to the pressures surrounding the holiday rush, if we remember 3 simple yogic principles for balancing in a tree pose, and apply them to checking in with ourselves this holiday season, we may be surprised at how clear and connected we may become to our own values and to what truly brings us joy this time of year.


In order to balance physically, we start by setting a strong foundation in our feet, rooting them in the ground, which establishes and supports the rest of our body from our legs, on up. To establish our foundation during the holiday season, start by asking yourself, “What are the foundations, roots, and traditions for the holidays that are firm and that I want to remain strong?” “Are there some simpler ways that I may have celebrated the holidays in my early life that I want to reestablish with my family now?” These types of questions can really help you stay grounded, mellow everything out, downplay the commercialization and “up” play the quality time and creativity. Plus, very often, children are fascinated by something they know mom or dad did as a child. So break out those felt and sequin ornaments from when you were the 3rd grader!


To find our center to balance physically, we work to engage the strongest part of our body–our core- -for added strength and power. To find your center during the holiday season, ask yourself, “What do I know to be true for my life/my family at this time of year?” When focusing on our center or truth, it’s important to tap into the values and traditions you’d like to continue with your family, while gently letting go of the ones that don’t work. Taking time to reflect on your truths may bring up a variety of thoughts and feelings, because we know that not all family and holiday memories may be positive ones. Setting boundaries, while sometimes difficult, can be the difference between sanity and insanity at this time of year. Not every party needs to be attended, not every acquaintance needs to receive a perfectly wrapped gift, and not every need of your high maintenance cousin needs to be catered to! Remember that we are in charge of shaping this experience for our families now, and sometimes owning that can be difficult.


Finding our focus when we balance physically, means finding an immovable point or spot beyond us in which to hold and steady our gaze. To find and keep our focus this holiday season, envision the end goal or big picture by asking, “What do I want my family to remember about their holiday seasons in our home? If you were a bird, flying over your holiday “tree”, what would you see now, and what would you like to see? Start making small changes based on that higher viewpoint. No rush or pressure, you’re just gradually creating what you envision for your family.

Finally, here are a few concrete ideas to think about for maintaining balance during the holidays:

If your children are chomping at the bit for the newest toys and video games they are already seeing advertised, then why not start that wish list nice and early? They can edit for a while, working out the urgency they feel for each thing they see, and deciding what they want the most. It will help you spend your hard-earned money as effectively as possible.

Eating, cooking together, sharing family recipes, and any activity surrounding food is such a great way to bridge the age gaps. A low tech and tactile experience like a cookie making party (with as many generations as possible in attendance) makes for wonderful memories and natural learning opportunities.

Forgo the impeccably wrapped presents. Choose one or two basic papers or gift bags, and one or two coordinating ribbons, and let your kids go at it. The perfectionist in us may cringe a bit at the results, but honestly, we all know Grandma will love their creations much more!

So when the holiday frenzy starts to bombard you, remember that you can always focus back on the three fundamental elements of balance – your roots, your trunk, and your higher view of your family holiday tree. We hope this will help you clarify and create what is most important to you this season.

Joyful balance to you and yours!

Family mealtimesby Shaila Saint, M.Ed.

Fall is here, which means it’s time to shake off the summertime cobwebs, and slowly begin to re-establish the rituals and routines of the new school year. And if your household is anything like ours, this will definitely include ridding ourselves of the summer junk food fare and re-establishing healthy eating habits and regular family mealtimes.

Research shows that children who consistently eat dinner with their families do better in school, develop better lifelong eating habits and are less likely to abuse alcohol and drugs. Family mealtimes also becomes a great opportunity to reconnect with each other about the day.

But although this may sound wonderful in theory, we parents know that the challenges always come in the practice (which is why it’s such a common topic of discussion in my mindful parenting classes). For example, what happens when when our three year-old takes two bites of this healthy meal we so lovingly prepared and then gets up to go play? Or when our nine year-old yells, “Yuck, I hate this!” In other words, how do we put our mealtime vision into practice?

The first place to start, as always, is knowing our children’s needs and temperaments and our own family values and boundaries. For example, is our three year-old really hungry or did she just have a snack not long ago? Is she naturally active, and typically just needs to move after a few minutes, regardless of what is being served? As far as the nine year-old, what is allowed and not allowed to be said during mealtimes, based upon your values? And what are the rules/ boundaries you want to establish around trying new things?

One of my favorite authors to help us establish a healthy eating philosophy is the nutritionist Ellyn Satter, whose basic tenet is that eating is a division of responsibility between children and parents. The parent is responsible for what is eaten, when it is eaten and where it is eaten. This includes deciding what food is prepared, providing regular meals and snacks, making mealtimes a pleasant experience, and helping children learn about food and mealtime behavior.

The child is responsible for how much is eaten and whether to eat. Satter contends that if we as parents do our job, then children will do their job including eating the amount they need, increasing the variety of food they eat, and learning to be joyful and appropriate in eating.

Satter’s books also reinforce the concept that if families sit down together and parents take responsibility for deciding what is served, we are less likely to turn into short order cooks, where different things are made for different people. This approach has helped me send the message that just as my boys have the choice of deciding how much to eat, they also have the choice to wait until the next meal, as this is what is being served now. No separate meals.

As the boys have gotten older, we have also developed a routine where everyone chooses a meal once a week, and sometimes help to shop for and prepare the meals as well. These guidelines have enabled all of us to become more open to a variety of things we otherwise may not have tried, and it also helps them learn lifelong skills like planning for and cooking meals.

Finally, Satter suggests that instead of looking at our children’s food and nutritional intake on a daily basis (which we know can vary depending on schedule, mood, and other factors) we look at it over the course of an entire week. This can really take the pressure off trying to make every mealtime nutritionally sound. If we know there are times, like on a busy weekend, when more junk food was consumed, we can decide to serve more fruits and veggies in the course of the next few days to balance it out.

It’s what I call “The Very Hungry Caterpillar philosophy” towards healthy family eating. Any of you who have read this Eric Carle book will recognize the overall message, that food, like other pleasures
and necessities in life, should be enjoyed and appreciated, with both moderation and awareness.

So just as the caterpillar in the book eats the nice green leaf on the Sunday after his Saturday junk food binge, whenever anyone in our family comes back from an event where we have overeaten, I try to discuss how we probably had too much cake/soda/ In-n-Out burgers, and that’s why we have this stomachache/headache/ fatigue.

We try not to judge food as good or bad, as I don’t want my boys looking at any type of food as the much sought after “forbidden fruit”, but I also hope they will develop an awareness of what they are eating and what the consequences are for their bodies and well-being. My long term hope is that the boys will make healthy eating a life choice because they see the benefits of it, and not just because I am making them do it now.

Overall, like anything else, the more mindful we are about the vision we have regarding our children’s relationship with food and their understanding of healthy eating, the more we can hopefully increase the pleasure and enjoyment of our family mealtime experiences during this new school year, and beyond — Bon Appetit!

by Shaila Saint

With summer almost upon us, how many of us are figuring out the countless ways to keep our kiddos happy over the next few months? Whether planning happy family vacations, happy camp experiences, or making sure they’ll enjoy every minute of their visit to “The Happiest Place on Earth”, we parents sure go to great lengths to keep our kids happy, don’t we?

A web search I did on “raising happy children” came up with 39,300,000 results, so it must be important. In fact, a favorite exercise in my classes is to have parents visualize their children at age 18 and list the top adjectives they hope will describe them as adults. In the 12 years I’ve been doing this, “happy” has always been one of the top words on the list. And why not? I think most of us want our children to be happy, both now and in the future. But does striving to keep our children happy truly translate into creating happy adults?

Maybe not. I recently read a very thought provoking article entitled, “How to Land your Kid in Therapy. Why the obsession with our kids’ happiness may be dooming them to unhappy adulthoods” ( http://www.theatlantic. com/magazine/ archive/2011/07/howto- land-your-kid-in-therapy/8555/). The article explores the possible consequences of protecting our children from unhappiness, and how it may affect and diminish their happiness as adults. The author, Lori Gottlieb, is a pychotherapist and mother, who reports that she and her colleagues are seeing more and more patients in their 20‘s and 30‘s who seem to come from loving and stable families, yet suffer from depression, anxiety, and a general sense of emptiness.

“Many parents will do anything to avoid having their kids experience even mild discomfort, anxiety, or disappointment…with the result that when, as adults, they experience the normal frustrations of life, they think something must be terribly wrong,” explains Paul Bohn, a psychiatrist at UCLA. The article discusses how these protections are preventing our children from developing, what Dan Kindlon, a child psychologist, calls “psychological immunity.” Just like our body’s immune system needs to be exposed to pathogens to know how to respond to an attack…”kids need exposure to discomfort, failure, and struggle….and yet parents often have this instantaneous reaction to unpleasantness, which is ‘I can fix this.”

I can definitely recount many of my “fix-it” moments as a parent, yet one stands out for the lesson it taught me. When driving Conor, about 8 yearsold, to his soccer game, he began complaining that he didn’t get as much playing time as other boys on the team. Just as I was about to respond in my most empathetic way (and was strategizing the conversation I was going to have with the coach to “fix” things) I heard my husband tell him, “You don’t play that much because you’re not as good.” The silence from the back seat was almost as intense as the sinking feeling in my stomach. “Poor Conor,” I thought. “How is that hurtful comment going to make him feel? Angry? Hurt? Or maybe even (gulp)…UNHAPPY?” But I held my tongue, knowing deep down that my husband was right. It may have been upsetting, but it was a fact. And yes, that was a tough season for him (and me) as I watched him struggle through not playing much, getting frustrated, and often wanting to quit. But he survived. In fact, I think he more than survived. That season gave him a little perspective and humility, and definitely helped us both develop more confidence to face a struggle and come out standing (not to mention motivating him to practice his soccer skills)! As author Wendy Mogel implored, “Please let them be devastated at age 6…many times on the soccer field …and not have their first devastation be in college!”

Yet I think about the countless ways we parents and the institutions we’re associated with, strive to “fix” things for our children and keep them happy. These include the infant contraptions with non-stop stimulation, the contrived and controlled playdates that have replaced spontaneous neighborhood play, the over the top birthday parties starting in preschool, the loss of school P.E. games that seem too violent, and the trophies given to everyone, so no one ever feels hurt or left out. “Nowadays, it’s not enough to be happy—if you can be even happier,” Gottlieb notes as she observes this phenomenon as being truly unique to our generation. “The American Dream and the pursuit of happiness have morphed from a quest for general contentment to the idea that you must be happy at all times and in every way.”

I recently asked my dad, a very positive and happy person who has definitely seen his share of struggles, how he viewed happiness in terms of raising his children. He and my mom’s goals as parents, he said simply, were to raise responsible and successful individuals. He talked about the importance of not giving us everything we wanted all the time, and never giving us the feeling of being entitled. Happiness was never the goal he said, but hopefully a nice outcome from building up our own inner satisfaction. He actually likened it to sleep. If we set the foundations to get rest, internally and externally, than sleep will hopefully be the outcome. The same could be said for happiness. His viewpoint was reinforced in the article. “Happiness as a byproduct of living your life is a great thing,” said Barry Schwartz, a professor of social theory. “But happiness as a goal is a recipe for disaster.”

So as summer settles upon us, let’s take some of this to heart, when listening to the less than “happy” feelings from our dear offsprings– be it their struggle with boredom from ALL that free time on their hands, the summer camp they hate to attend, or losing out to their siblings for prime car seat territory during the long family road trip. Maybe by allowing them to experience these small struggles now, we are building up their psychological immunity to face and conquer the bigger and inevitable challenges that lay down the road. And feel the happier for it!

Shaila Saint

Mindful & Empowered Parenting

Shaila is the co-founder of Canopy, an organization whose mission is to be a comprehensive resource umbrella under which families can access a variety of supportive and meaningful opportunities to connect, reflect and refuel.

This includes mindful parent education and yoga classes, consultations, as well as live and virtual workshops, and local retreats and mixers, that focus on creating safe and non-judgmental environments for parents to connect with others, reflect upon interesting and relevant topics, and refuel with yummy treats and a little pampering and relaxation.

Read more about Shaila and her mission here.

Article written by Shaila Saint

How should I feel about my children playing with weapons?”

This question, so commonly asked by concerned parents, has understandably gotten even more significant, given the multiple mass shooting tragedies of last year and the national conversation that has ensued.

It’s also been a central topic in my parenting classes, as families strive to understand their children’s timeless interest in “good guys” versus “bad guys”, determine what is developmentally appropriate and normal, and reflect upon their individual family values.

I remember when I took the boys to Disneyland a few months ago and saw firsthand this utter fascination with weaponry. Whether it was the mini Luke Skywalkers and Darth Vaders sparring with light sabers near Space Mountain, or the Captain Hook/ Jack Sparrows dueling with pistols and swords in the Pirates of the Caribbean store, I saw children (mostly boys) of all sizes delighting in any type of power weapon they could get their hands on. And this fascination seemed to transcend all ethnic, cultural and even generational barriers when I saw many Dads, Uncles, and even Grandpas joining in!

I know the first time I saw Conor, age 4, fashioning a gun out of a banana and yelling, “Pow, pow, you’re dead Mama!” I immediately had visions of a violent future and wondered where I had gone wrong!

Yet the first issue to remember is that a four-year old saying “Pow you’re dead” is not the same as an adult saying it. A four year-old has a preschool level understanding of what a gun or killing is (often when I asked Conor about the meaning of “kill” I got answers like, “you’re asleep, you’re a skeleton or you go away for a long time”). So it’s important to remember not to put an adult level of understanding of guns— that shooting people means they want to be violent and hurt people–on young children’s play.

In their book, Becoming the Parent You Want to Be, Laura Davis and Janis Keyser outline a number of reasons, both developmental and societal, that make this type of play so common in young boys. One of the primary reasons is the need to gain power. As children grow from toddlers into the preschool/school age years, their awareness of the world around them becomes bigger, but so does their realization of how little they control or understand it. So, as Janis and Laura state in the book, two of the underlying questions children often ask during gun play are, “How can I have power in this world?” and “How can I make things happen?”

That’s why this is also a common time to see other types of power research including physical aggression and exclusionary play emerging. Children at this age are also beginning to understand the power of language, so this is also a time where body and poop words, and sometimes even name calling and swearing surface.

Other reasons the book gives for gun play include trying to learn about our society’s deep interest in guns, trying to understand death (which is another awareness that becomes stronger at this age) and also seeing the cause and effect that gun play has on adults.

Of course, pre-teen and teenagers also have the need to feel powerful, and also have the added social need of impressing their peers. A great reference article from, describes the developmental needs of boys at this age, and what to observe in order to determine if their gun play (both with toy weapons and video games) is normal and when to be concerned: (

Overall, knowing the reasons behind gun play and putting it in a developmental perspective is a great start to feeling like you are not raising a violent child. And deciding how to handle it, gives you the opportunity to reflect upon your family vision and think about the values you want to teach your children during those moments.

For example, one of the fundamental values in our family are the ideas of compassion and empathy. This meant that in addition to trying to understand my children’s point of view (like why power play was so important) I also wanted them to hear my feelings around it. So to strike the balance, I began saying, “I can see you want to shoot, but I don’t like being shot. If you both want to play with each other, make sure that shooting is okay with both of you.” I also knew I didn’t want real looking guns in the house. A reallooking gun would always only be a gun, while a Lego or branch that was a gun one minute, could also be something else another. This rule about no real-looking guns also gave me the opportunity to talk with the boys about how we feel about guns and their impact in the world.

So next time your sweet, loving son (or daughter) raises their weapon of choice at you, don’t panic! Remember that it is normal and empowering for them and also another opportunity to clarify and teach the values that are most important to you and your family.

Shaila Saint

Mindful & Empowered Parenting
Intentional Parenting
Shaila is the founder of Mindful Parent and Mama Time, which provides a comfortable environment for parents to interact with each other. Read more about Shaila and her mission here.

It’s Saturday morning, 8:43am, and I’m in yoga class balancing in halfmoon pose and trying to find an hour of respite from the pre-holiday planning and madness.

As the burning and shaking in my standing leg is about to cause me to crumble to the ground, I suddenly hear my teacher’s voice coming through the haze of sweaty faces and sitar music… “Remember your Center during this moment of struggle.

My Center? My Center during this struggling moment is the last thing I can remember! I’ve been holding my breath, blowing soggy strands of hair off my eyes, and internally cursing the teacher for not releasing us from this torture! But strangely, after hearing her reminder, I begin to engage my core, which in turn, gets me to breathe a little deeper, which then allows me to stand in the pose a few seconds longer.

Same Saturday, I’m back at home a few hours later, where Kiki and Conor are setting up for their weekly Madden Wii game. Suddenly I hear loud shouts and cries coming from Kiki, who’s begging Conor to let him play first, even though it’s Conor’s turn, and he’s in no mood to negotiate. So Kiki runs upstairs to find me, and pleads for me to intervene and change their rules.

I’m so tempted to just give in and agree, as it will allow me a few free moments to peacefully compile my holiday shopping lists, and I know that reinforcing what’s fair will mean a long saga that can easily be avoided if I talk with Conor (who will probably agree to wait).

But then my teacher’s words come back to me… Remember our Center during times of struggle.

Just as it would have been easier for me to let go of my yoga pose as soon as it felt difficult, it definitely would be easier to let Kiki avoid this moment when he doesn’t get his way.

But what will that teach him about the importance and value of struggle? So I don’t ask Conor. Instead I try to validate and empathize with Kiki (which is quite challenging in the face of a slamming door and loud laments about how we are “the meanest family in the world!”). And it was a long process; probably a good 45 minutes of anger, frustration and tears. Yet the longer it went on, the clearer it became to me that however messy and difficult, this struggle was worth it.

During those 45 minutes, I realized that the bigger lesson for Kiki to learn, is that not getting what you want all the time is part of life (and an important reminder during this consumption-focused time of year) as well as waiting your turn, following the rules, and working through your feelings in a safe way. Those were all the lessons that would have been lost if I had given in and taken the easier path. Not to mention the message I would be sending to both Conor and Kiki that yelling the loudest is the way to get what you want, whether it’s fair or not.

It also helped remind me how important it is for our children to experience safe and appropriate struggle, no matter how difficult it is for us to watch or how tempted we are to save them.

Whether it’s an infant who can’t quite reach an object, an 11 year-old who experiences a buzzer beater loss in his basketball playoffs, or a teenager who has to navigate the social and academic pressures of high school, it is in these moments that children can experience both the emotional growth, and pride in accomplishment that come from overcoming adversity.It is also another opportunity to practice how to keep our bearings, or our Center, during the biggest challenges we face.

And inevitably, just like my half moon pose and everything else in life, Kiki’s feelings (and Conor’s Madden game) didn’t last forever. He eventually stopped yelling, eventually asked me for a hug, and eventually got his turn to play. And I have to hope that both of us gained a little more clarity about our Center that Saturday, and how we can work towards finding it, even in the most difficult moments of struggle.

So here’s a toast and wish for this holiday season to be filled with a little more clarity and centeredness and a little less struggle and adversity.

Cheers everyone!


Shaila Saint

Mindful & Empowered Parenting
Intentional Parenting
Shaila is the founder of Mindful Parent and Mama Time, which provides a comfortable environment for parents to interact with each other. Read more about Shaila and her mission here.

Hold on to your pencil boxes, because the Back to School season has arrived! One of the annual activities at our house this time of year involves taking stock and stocking up. Whether it’s classroom supplies, school uniforms, or physical exams, the fall always seems to be the time to take an inventory of what we have, what we need, and what we can discard (we’ve currently got three working piles growing in our living room).

So in the spirit of taking stock, I’ve decided to put together another set of piles for the new school year. I’m calling them my family vision piles, based on the term coined by parent educators, Janis Keyser and Laura Davis. A family vision, they explain, is seeing the big picture of where you are going as a family, what values you most want to teach and model, and determining what is most important. Basically, by establishing a vision, you set-up the long-term intentions and goals for your family for the year. Here’s what my piles look like so far:

Discard Pile: Like the stained uniform shirts, and ripped 3 ring binders, what do I want to discard this year when it comes to our family?

1. The sound and quality of my voice during times of stress. This carping, droning, (dare I say nagging?) voice, usually heard in the morning rush or frenzied afternoons of homework and practices, tends to repeat itself in 5-10 second intervals, with phrases such as, “Come on!” “Hurry up!” or “Don’t forget..!” In addition to being both annoying and agitating to everyone involved, this voice and it’s shrill requests, become increasingly futile as time goes on.

2. The myth of being a perfect supermom. I’m also going to try and discard my unrealistic expectations that I can control everything and do it all. And in case I needed further motivation, two recent articles, aptly entitled, Why Women Still Can’t Have it All and Why Supermoms are Sad, confirmed that moms who expect that a work/life balance can be achieved easily (or at all), are more unhappy that those who accept that they can’t do everything, and tradeoffs will have to be made.

3. The blame and guilt I put on myself, my family, and the world in general, when life gets stressful. Like the supermom myth above, I will work to discard these negative feelings that seem to crop up whenever I am most stressed, and to replace them with compassion and forgiveness, remembering that we all are generally doing the best we can.

Add Pile: Next, what do I want to add to our family, along with the new lunch boxes and football cleats this year?

1. More interactive communication. I will make a conscious effort to add more interactive conversations with my boys and husband each week, with sentences beginning with, “What do you think of…?” “How was your…?” and “What are you feelings about…?” (as opposed to that nagging voice I hope to discard above). My goal is to stay as connected with them as possible, even when life gets hectic.

2. A weekly electronics-free time zone. This idea came to me one desperate summer afternoon in the midst of a computer game/ tv show/ web surfing binge our entire family was on. As I noticed our levels of agitation increasing with each successive sound and click coming from the machines. I desperately ordered a complete shutdown of devices for an “electronics-free” hour. And wow! After the initial caffeine-like withdrawal symptoms, a peace and calm descended upon our household that I hadn’t seen in a long time. Books were cracked open, lego towers were built, and actual conversations were initiated!

3. More time and flexibility during rush periods. Finally, in place of that supermom mindset, I will work to add more time to prepare and organize during rush hours, as well as giving myself flexibility and permission to let go when all doesn’t go smoothly (remembering that when my sons forget their water bottles or we arrive a few minutes late to practice, the world and my competence has not suddenly come to an end)!

Keep Pile: And finally, like the tried and true backpack my 11 year-old is using for his third consecutive year, what are the things I want to keep and continue in our family?

Those elements and activities that reflect our shared values of laughing together, slowing down when we can, nurturing ourselves and each other, and connecting in general.

Some, but not all, of the items in this pile will include:

  • Family mealtimes at least 2-3 times every week (hopefully more)
  • Unstructured family time, with no other commitment except hanging out
  • Family movie nights with popcorn, whenever time permits
  • Maintaining a sense of humor
  • Continuing those activities we enjoy on our own, and together, that help us stay refueled and healthy
  • Remembering an attitude of gratitude
  • Breathing in, breathing out
  • Letting go
  • Did I mention a sense of humor?

So that’s where I’m starting. Although I’m sure there will be plenty of bumps and setbacks along the way, I’m hoping that keeping my family vision in mind, will enable me to make the best decisions possible in the midst of the action-packed and frenzied moments ahead. Here’s to a happy, reflective, and intentional school year for us all!

Shaila Saint

Mindful & Empowered Parenting
Intentional Parenting
Shaila is the founder of Mindful Parent, which provides a comfortable environment for parents to interact with each other. Read more about Shaila and her mission here.

Summer is birthday season for my boys. Conor, the Leo, begins his third year of teenager–hood this summer, while Kiki, the Cancer, enters his second year in the world of double digits. Despite the unbelievable speed of these developments, many things about their birthdays have remained constant throughout the years: the candles blown out on Krispy Kremes instead of cakes, the birthday morning treasure hunt for presents, and their tireless requests to hear stories about the day they came into the world.

Another constant is how their birthdays always have the power of leading me to reflect upon where I am as a parent, where my children are, and how we are connecting together. Beginning with those earliest days and months of their lives when they were so dependent on me for most of their needs, and shifting with each successive year, I am continually amazed by this “connection” dance of dependence, independence, and detachment.

So what is healthy connection?

On one hand, the more connected I feel to my boys, the more I am able to feel empathetic to their perspective, and what they face in the world. When I am in tune, it’s so much easier to see my eleven–year–old’s testiness and impatience in relation to the amount of homework, fatigue, or other pressures he faces at various times in his life. To see that it’s not that different from when he was young and missed his morning nap, or accompanied me on too many errands and inevitably a meltdown ensued. In each circumstance, he is conveying his need for space, refueling, or rest.
Feeling connected also helps me understand that my teenager’s constant testing of what he can and cannot do on his own, [which] is his way of researching the push and pull of independence and security. It reminds me of when he was first able to walk away from me at the park as a toddler. He loved going far away but often looked back, sometimes to make sure I was where he left me, other times to see if I would come and set a limit on the path he chose. And even though he doesn’t always like my limits, when I feel connected, I see that at each stage in his life he has the same need for Mom, his “safe harbor” to be there for him, as he explores the world.

Yet, the other side of connectedness is not being so connected that we follow our children to every emotional place they go, and everything they experience becomes our experience. This is especially true, as we all know, when it comes to their struggles, heartaches and fears. Practically, this means not letting our egos allow us to take all the credit or blame for their choices, behaviors or achievements, no matter how tempting. When my boys experience success or challenge, be it athletically, academically or socially, it’s so difficult not to feel and experience the same joy or pain they do. Yet, when I am connected, I know that in order to determine the appropriate action or response to these situations, I must remain a little detached–to see these moments as ultimately their journey (not mine), where once again I remain their safe harbor, if and when they need me.

This detachment also includes knowing what information we need to know about our children and respecting there are things we never need to know. Especially now with the tweens and teens upon me, I see this happening more and more. How much of my boys’ experiences, interactions and feelings do they need to share with me? How much did I want to share with my parents when I was their age? As the Kabat-Zinns observe in their book, Everyday Blessings, The Inner Work of Mindful Parenting, “The quality and warmth of our connections with our children will be proportional to how much we continue to do our own inner work, and keep a sense of appropriate boundaries… according the same freedom and respect to our children as they transition every year from total dependency… to independent and interdependent adults.”

So in closing this summertime, birthday reflection, I would like to share a poem I revisit often, given to me as a new mother by my parents, that speaks so beautifully to this ever shifting, constantly challenging, yet powerful journey of connection:

On Children by Kahlil Gibran

Your children are not your children.

They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.

They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.

You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.

You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.

For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.

The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.

Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable.

Shaila Saint

Mindful & Empowered Parenting
Intentional Parenting
Shaila is the founder of Mindful Parent, which provides a comfortable environment for parents to interact with each other.
Read more about Shaila and her mission here