Just a couple weeks ago I gave a sermon entitled: Parenting as Spiritual Practice. Within a few days I received a call (from someone who had no idea where I’d been or what I’d been speaking on) to participate in an online summit of experts on the topic of “Sacred Parenting”. Seemingly, I’m onto something!

(Of course I agreed, and I will be letting y’all know about it as we get closer to the summit at the end of September.)

However, what struck me most in preparing the talk was the fact that I am at the end of my journey of parenting children and am now parenting young adults. With this perspective, I was able to reflect on what I did as a parent of babies and toddlers, of young children, middle-grade children, and teens. Remarkably, even when I felt like I was drowning in diapers, drool, and drama, I seemed to have been holding my spiritual center on most days. So, I thought I’d share my insights with you. As always, take what works, and leave the rest. You know yourself best.

Three parts of parenting as spiritual practice are Presence, Patience, and Guidance.

When we practice Presence we are engaged in the moment. Our head, heart, and body (thoughts, feelings, and actions) are aligned in the now. We are not thinking of what didn’t go right yesterday (or 5 years ago), nor are we fretting over next week’s massive to-do list or the possibility of our child not getting into the “best” school. We offer our full Self to our child(ren) to the best of our ability at the time. Of course, there are times when we are less present than others, yet reminding ourselves that in this moment we are enough and breathing into the now, we can give our children what they most want: our attention and love.

Practicing Patience looks different when our children are different ages. We are patient waiting for a bug to cross the sidewalk instead of walking over or past it. Small children’s eyes are lower to the ground than an adult’s, and they are far more curious about what is right in front of them than where you want them to go or how long it takes to get there. We are patient with our middle-schooler as she unfolds all the happenings of every “frenemy” in class knowing that these relationships and their problems are important to her. We are patient with our 22yo son as he decides which of 4 summer internships to take and debates with you and himself in many, many conversations which one will give him the most fun, the coolest place to live, the best networking opportunities, and the right amount of challenge. We are patient as our children navigate the choices they need to make regarding love relationships, work, housing, sexuality, major purchases, and higher education knowing that this is how they become the functional and thoughtful adults we hope them to be.

And through this all, we practice Guidance. We set boundaries of safety, of kindness, of using tools, furniture, and equipment, and language with respect. We guide our children by showing them how we want them to treat others by treating them with unconditional love, courtesy, and by honestly expressing our feelings. We ask for forgiveness when we mess up, and we offer forgiveness when they ask for it (and sometimes before!). We let them learn through experiencing natural consequences and then following that up with conversation about ways to find more satisfactory outcomes. We understand the difference between being a parent and being a friend…and then, as they become adults, we learn to shift that balance and treat them as equals, as friends.

It ain’t easy! And none of us are perfect, which is why this is called a spiritual practice. Every day you get the opportunity to practice Presence, Patience, and Guidance. And, over time, this practice will change you and help you become the parent you want to be. Luckily, humans are resilient, so there is always a chance to shift and rebuild bridges that may need some shoring up.