Mindful parenting is about being fully present and giving thanks.
After seeing our youngest child safely settled into her new life in London, I returned to Phuket where we had lived as a family for the past four years before she left home. I simply had to make this journey, though my life is in London now.
On my first Sunday back in Phuket, I went to church with my children’s father, just the two of us. There used to be so many children of ours in church on Sunday mornings with us, but one by one, they have left the nest for their own lives (though they live together in London).
It was a time for us to reflect as we stood side-by-side in church this Sunday. It’s been a long journey, spanning 30 years. When we started this journey, we were just kids ourselves, but we both had strong parents who nipped at our heels constantly and who had no hesitation in telling us off when our standards fell below their extremely high standards.
I remember my late mother-in-law saying disapprovingly to me, “Why do you want to go to university, Jac? You have a family to take care of now.”
I was incensed and upset. I ran home and complained bitterly to my own mother, expecting her to take my side. Instead, my mother commented mildly, “Being a mother is the most important job you’ll ever do, Jac.” I was stunned by my mother’s response.
But I always had the support of my in-laws, even against their own son, when it came to family matters. I was so very young then, struggling with my studies and identity crisis, and he too had some problems adjusting to life in the north of England and being cash-strapped after the golden years of being a carefree bachelor. Therefore, I am eternally grateful that whatever personal reservations she had about me, my late mother-in-law always put our little family unit first. And over the years, we learned to put our little family unit first, too.
In doing so, we led the best 30 years of our lives even though we did not achieve our career highs. We were fully present for our children for the 18 years of their lives with us before we let them go.
In the last year before my mother-in-law died, we took her to Westminster Cathedral for the very last time. Trips into London were beginning to confuse and terrify her by then. She had one granddaughter on each arm helping her up the stairs. She sat between her granddaughters during Mass, her eyes faraway and unfocussed. I wondered if she knew where she was (she had advanced Alzheimer’s).
But sometime during Mass, she leaned over to me and squeezed my hand. “You did well, Jac,” she said cryptically.
And that was the best compliment I have ever received in my life, the one I valued most. I am tearing up as I write this.
My dear Mum, I am merely walked the path you and my mother illuminated for me.
I believe this is mindful parenting, when we are reminded that we have to stay fully present on the path that we are on, despite the fact that being fully present on the path means sacrificing personal ambitions and opportunities. It means being contented with what we have, even if what we have is not what we dreamed of.
But here’s the thing, my children’s father and I have given up loads (he was moving to Paris to live when the unplanned pregnancy changed his life forever), BUT we had gained so much in return. The moment we stopped hankering for could-have-beens, we realised that bringing up children is a great way to live though it is not what we would have chosen, have we had the choice.
Thus, I am grateful for the reminders over the years. The Sundays especially, when we put aside our tiredness and busyness and grumpiness, to go to church together and celebrate family life. And here I am today, to pay homage to mindful parenting, the best thing I have ever done.