At the center of your being you have the answer; you know who you are and you know what you want. -- Lao Tzu

Thursday, August 21, 2008

On My Daughter's 4th Birthday

My daughter turned 4 yesterday. It was the first birthday we spent with her. Her last birthdays were spent in the orphanage where she had lived her life since 4 weeks of age. Her birthday passed without her acknowledgement of the event. How can you explain something like that to a child who has never seen it or has any idea that it's a milestone we measure? And in fact we celebrated her birthday last Friday and taught her how to tear open gifts and she ate cake! But yesterday as now, my thoughts are less about her and more about her mother. I'm not naive enough to think that all children abandoned in China are loved, cherished and wanted. Parents there are just as likely to be bad parents as they are here. But our daughter was left in a public place, with a note and I believe her parents did what they had to do and that it was heart wrenching for them.
So on her birthday, I wonder about her mother. Does she mark this day and wonder where her daughter is and how she's doing? Does she look at every little 4 yr old girl she passes and wonder if that's her child? Does she wonder if her daughter died? She certainly knows about international adoption. Does she wonder if her daughter is living abroad? I wonder about how I'd feel and I think the not knowing would tear me up inside. Maybe I'd try not to think about it at all.
I wish I could tell her about her child. I wish I could send her pictures and updates. But I can't. So I've written her this letter and posting it here is akin to tying it to a balloon and setting it free (which BTW is ecologically irresponsible) so here it is.
Dear Unknown Mother,
On the day of your daughter's 4th birthday I want to tell you that she is OK. She's been with us for 7 months and she's thriving. She's a very good girl and very smart. She's a strong person and that strength will serve her well in her life. She's resilient and meets life with openness and excitement.
I fought hard for her. She was supposed to be adopted by a different family, and they backed out, leaving her to an uncertain fate. But I knew then that I wanted this child as my own. It took about two years but we got her home. It was against all odds that we were able to get her home. But she had a lot of people working to get her out of the SWI and into a home. And I'm so glad it was mine!
She had a heart surgery but the doctors in China did well with the repair. She is going to the Dr here in a couple of weeks. Just for a check up. She's gained a pound a month and easily grown 3 inches. She's very strong physically. She runs and plays well. She doesn't talk much, but we'll get there. We communicate well and her needs are met. I am confident that one day she will begin talking and not stop!
She has two brothers who adore her and a father who is wrapped around her little finger! She has cousins, an aunt and uncles that love her too. She's a treasured member of our family. She will have every advantage we can give her. I want you to know that she is OK and you don't have to worry about her. I know you will never stop missing her but you don't need to worry that she's unwell or unloved.
I wish I could know you. I wish I could let you know her. I wish so much that you could be a part of her life. And I am painfully aware that my joy came at a huge cost to you. You will always be here with us. As she grows and questions -- you will be here. I will do my best to answer her questions about you and the "whys" of her early life. I want you to know that we will always make room for you in our family. And for you, I bid you peace. I hope you can find comfort in what you did and why you did it. And I hope you will some day know that she's an amazing person who we are lucky to love. And it's all because of your painful and selfless act four years ago.
Forever grateful,

The Kind of Person I Want to Be

The following are some exercises to help with mindful parenting, but really this can be applied when dealing with anyone in any situation. It's a constant struggle to overcome the old parenting paradigm I've used and was raised with...of course each generation should try to do better by their kids than the last. If only I could do this with no mistakes.

12 Exercises for Mindful Parenting by Myla and Jon Kabat-Zinn
See Myla’s and Jon’s web site at

With these meditative techniques, raising children can be a spiritual practice. Try to imagine the world from your child’s point of view, purposefully letting go of your own. Do this every day for at least a few moments to remind you of who this child is and what he or she faces in the world.

Imagine how you appear and sound from your child’s point of view, i.e., having you as a parent today, in this moment. How might this modify how you carry yourself in your body and in space, how you speak, and what you say? How do you want to relate to your child in this moment?

Practice seeing your children as perfect just the way they are. See if you can stay mindful of their sovereignty from moment to moment, and work at accepting them as they are when it is hardest for you to do so. Be mindful of your expectations of your children and consider whether they are truly in your child’s best interest. Also, be aware of how you communicate those expectations and how they affect your children.

Practice altruism, putting the needs of your children above your own whenever possible. Then see if there isn’t some common ground, where your true needs can also be met. You may be surprised at how much overlap is possible, especially if you are patient and strive for balance. When you feel lost, or at a loss, remember to stand still and meditate on the whole by bringing your full attention to the situation, to your child, to yourself, to the family. In doing so, you may go beyond thinking, even good thinking, and perceive intuitively, with the whole of your being, what needs to be done. If that is not clear in any moment, maybe the best thing is to not do anything until it becomes clearer. Sometimes it is good to remain silent.

Try embodying silent presence. This will grow out of both formal and informal mindfulness practice over time if you attend to how you carry yourself and what you project in body, mind, and speech. Listen carefully. Learn to live with tension without losing your own balance. In Zen and the Art of Archery, Herrigel describes how he was taught to stand at the point of highest tension effortlessly without shooting the arrow. At the right moment, the arrow mysteriously shoots itself. Practice moving into any moment, however difficult, without trying to change anything and without having to have a particular outcome occur. Simply bring your full awareness and presence to this moment. Practice seeing that whatever comes up is “workable” if you are willing to trust your intuition. Your child needs you to be a center of balance and trustworthiness, a reliable landmark by which he or she can take a bearing within his or her own landscape. Arrow and target need each other. They will find each other best through wise attention and patience.

Apologize to your child when you have betrayed a trust in even a little way. Apologies are healing. An apology demonstrates that you have thought about a situation and have come to see it more clearly, or perhaps more from your child’s point of view. But be mindful of being “sorry” too often. It loses its meaning if you are always saying it, making regret into a habit. Then it can become a way not to take responsibility for your actions. Cooking in remorse on occasion is a good meditation. Don’t shut off the stove until the meal is ready.

Every child is special, and every child has special needs. Each sees in an entirely unique way.Hold an image of each child in your heart. Drink in their being, wishing them well. There are important times when we need to be clear and strong and unequivocal with children. Let this come as much as possible out of awareness, generosity, and discernment, rather than out of fear, self-righteousness, or the desire to control. Mindful parenting does not mean being overindulgent, neglectful, or weak; nor does it mean being rigid, domineering, and controlling.

The greatest gift you can give your child is your self. This means that part of your work as a parent is to keep growing in self-knowledge and awareness. This ongoing work can be furthered by making a time for quiet contemplation in whatever ways feel comfortable to us. We only have right now. Let us use it to its best advantage, for our children’s sake, and for our own.

Mindfulness expert Jon Kabat-Zinn is the author of Wherever You Go, There You Are. Myla Kabat-Zinn has worked as a childbirth educator, birthing assistant, and environmental activist. Excerpted from Everyday Blessings: The Inner Work of Mindful Parenting. Copyright 1997 by Myla Kabat-Zinn and Jon Kabat-Zinn.