Don’t we all wish we could flip a magic switch and turn our crazy, chaotic lives into a balanced, centered sanctuary?
In our daily lives this balanced state brings us to presence, the place where we can respond without reacting, appreciate without becoming consumed, connect from our heart center. This state of grace is the goal of my asana practice, my everyday existence, and, most importantly, my parenting practice.
Nearly five years ago I became a single parent to my two radiant, remarkable children.
Since then I’ve worked full time, gone to school full time for three years to finish my degree and become trained as a yoga teacher, all while performing the standard mothering circus act of chauffeuring, reading, refereeing, cooking, caring, studying, teaching, helping, bathing, etc. etc., you get the point.
All the single parents out there know that this is hard. Heck, it’s hard to raise kids with two people. It’s at times a nearly impossible task to meet all the needs of your children, maintain a household, and meet as many of your own needs as you possibly can.
During the first few years of parenting on my own, it became crucial to me that my children not feel like they were living in the middle of a hurricane of busy. I want them to grow up with yoga. Not asanas. The actual practice of yoga off the mat. Finding balance between strength and ease. I want them to grow up connected to themselves, to me and to the world around them. I want them to have an example of peace, happiness and grace. I want them to know centered.
Every family is different, but here are a few things that have been essential to our building a family life that’s balanced, centered and connected.
- Get Centered
You can’t teach what you don’t have. This step was what I had to do first to attain happiness in my family life. The first year after my divorce was an intensive journey of healing, praying, practicing, writing and finding myself again. Of course, this is a process, and I have daily off-center moments, but if we get down to our own core, find our hearts and begin healing them, we can live from our hearts, which is the very best center to have. Such a journey is not alway easy, and getting there varies wildly from person to person, but when we find it, the rest of our lives will become infinitely easier.
- Get Organized
When I had kids many people told me to “learn to love a mess.” This advice was horrible. As the epitome of a right-brained person, organization is definitely not my forte, but I’ve learned that the more organized I am, the easier my practical life is. I can’t give my children peaceful mornings when lunches haven’t been made, the laundry isn’t done, and I have a million tasks running through my head because I haven’t prioritized my to-do lists. Being a single parent requires organization.
- Get Help
I’m the type of person that often feels like they can and should do everything on their own. As a single parent, I’ve (thankfully!) learned to relax this quite a bit. Get a babysitter once a week. If you have family nearby that will watch your little ones for free, fantastic! If not, form a supportive group of moms that you can trade child care with. If you can afford it, hire a house cleaner once a week. Form a carpool group so getting kids to/from school is easier if your kids don’t ride the bus. Basically, get all the help you possibly can from wherever you can get it. It’s ok to need it.
- Take really, really, really good care of yourself
I know this step is challenging when you’re spending so much time taking care of others, but it’s so worth it. Life demands a lot of you as a single parent, so keep your body, mind and spirit up to the task. Eat well. Go to sleep early. Wake up early and do yoga (or meditate, or garden, or whatever practice keeps your mind peaceful and your body limber). Don’t use your babysitter time to work! I know it’s tempting, because there is so much work to do, but use that time to meet your own social needs. Go to a yoga class with a friend, or dinner with the girls or even (gasp!) go on a date, if that’s what you want. As parents we often feel guilty for the times we put ourselves first. Let it go. I want to model health and happiness for my children, so I’ve gotten pretty good at making myself healthy and happy.
- Turn off the TV
Raising centered children is much more difficult if there’s daily TV in the house. Though it’s tempting to turn the television set on because it makes it easier for me to get things done, I know that when I do I will be rewarded with frantic, energetically unstable kids that have a higher tendency to fight with me and each other. I want my home to be a sanctuary, and TV wrecks that for me. It took some getting used to, but now if the TV is on, it’s the few times a month we are watching a family movie together.
- Incorporate ritual into your daily life
You don’t have to live in a mountain retreat making kale chips and singing kirtan all day to give your kids a connected life. (Though that sounds nice!) Small rituals every day make a big difference. For us this looks like: a two minute “meditation” together each morning, which is really just breathing quietly and connecting with each other; listing our “hopes and gratitudes” on the way to school each morning to bring presence to this particular day; eating dinner and having a conversation; and (my personal favorite) climbing into my big bed before the kids go to their own beds and reading, cuddling, talking about the ways we helped others that day and singing the gayatri mantra as our bedtime prayer. These rituals sound simple, but when life is so busy letting them slip can be so easy. By bringing the sacred into our everyday lives, we remember that we are bigger and more extraordinary than the many small problems that take up so much of our time.
- Learn forgiveness
When your house looks more like a slum than a sanctuary, you’ve yelled at the kids, nothing is organized and you feel like you’re on your last thread of sanity, let it go. Forgive yourself in that moment, forgive the kids, forgive the house. Take a breath. Let love in. Make imperfect progress. Forgive it all. It helps. You’re doing just fine, after all.
Of course, this list is subjective and incomplete. There is no formula. Take what helps and brew your own heart-living potion. Our path to our center as three individuals and as a family has been full of mistakes, bad days, good days, wild days, and some crazy, but mostly it’s just been crazy sweet. I am so grateful for the challenges that taught me these lessons, because these challenges led us to the shared heart of our family, and there is so much love in that (sometimes crazy but mostly crazy sweet) space. Truly, I wouldn’t trade this life for anything.
Jane Ysadora is native to the wild desert of Phoenix, AZ. It is there she lives, writes, teaches, and practices. She’s extraordinarily lucky to be the mother of her two greatest teachers. Her favorite mantra is: “All you need is love.”
Editor: Lara Chassin
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July’s Full Moon in Capricorn: The Heart wants what it Wants. How to Love a Woman who Scares You. The 4 Stages of a Good Divorce. Our Soulmates are Rarely Who We Expect. I Still Think of You. Men, Let’s Stop Fooling Ourselves: Size Matters. To the One Who Tried to Break Me. An Open Letter to the Fixers. How your Stored Memories in the Amygdala can lead to PTSD. How My Sister’s Death Transformed my Self-Perception.