As parents, and especially as parents of Orchid kids, we spend a solid chunk of our days (and nights!) taking care of said kids, who are often tugging at our sleeves, climbing on top of us, and constantly needing our support. It can be utterly exhausting and exasperating, and can leave us feeling depleted.
What if I told you there was a way to take care of our kids in a way that did not always leave us feeling mentally and physically exhausted? I’m not being glib here: you can effectively take care of what’s in front of you without all the angst and frustration that so often comes along with it. Mind-blowing, I know. But it’s possible, I promise.
When my sons were younger, I went on a Zen Buddhist meditation retreat that I hoped would be a way for me to practice quieting my ever-buzzing, ever-worrying mind, so I could better support my two sons, the younger of whom had recently gotten an autism diagnosis.
All participants in the retreat were given 15 minutes to meet with the meditation teacher privately to get some individualized guidance and insights. At our meeting, I shared my son’s recent autism diagnosis and that I felt totally overwhelmed. She looked right at me, and said, “I can’t imagine how hard that must be,” and then followed up with a quintessentially Buddhist piece of advice, “Take care of what’s in front of you.”
What?? Take care of what’s in front of me??
I thought, I definitely “take care” of my kids, who “are in front of me” what feels like all of the time! To the point of exhaustion and full-on frazzle.
Before I had time to get offended, she elaborated: take care of whatever comes in front of you without judgment, commentary or critical analysis.
It was so beautifully Buddhist: so simple and yet so complex.
It is decidedly challenging, when you realize how often taking care of things in front of us carries with it a whole long internal monologue about fairness, burdens and desire to be anywhere else. In that perfectly Buddhist way, she was telling me to come back to the simple and straightforward path, putting one foot in front of the other, in order to clear the inner turmoil so much of us experience.
I got the gift of a ripe opportunity to try it out in real life shortly after returning, when my Kindergarten age son came home scratching his head fiercely. You probably already know what’s coming. Maybe you’re scratching your own head right now as chills begin to creep up your spine at the thought of it—lice. When I looked at his head that day and saw some dreaded bugs crawling around, I gasped and started to panic. Then, I took a few deep breaths, and remembered my teacher’s words.
I put one foot in front of the other, walked to the pharmacy, got a lice shampoo and comb, and got to work, without squeamishness, frustration or any internal monologue. It was an amazingly freeing experience. I moved through an onerous and time-consuming process without anger, frustration or exasperation. And, I was able to model for my son how to handle an annoying challenge calmly and effectively.
I come back to that “take care of what’s in front of you” phrase often when I feel the inner monologue about the challenges of parenting an autistic child, and all that comes along with that, begin to creep into my consciousness. Reminding myself to take care of what is in front of me, alongside really seeing what is in front of me, rather than what I would like to see, always helps me reduce the constant state of worry and handwringing about his future.
We joke in our Raising Orchid Kids classes that we all need to tattoo “Take care of what’s in front of you” on our forearms to remind us that keeping this phrase in mind is actually a way to take care of ourselves as we take care of what’s in front of us.
TL;DR: If you can work to simply “take care of what’s in front of you” without judgment, overanalysis, or hand wringing (I recommend breathing deeply to help you avoid all of those things!), you will find that you will effectively take care of your child and your family, and simultaneously take care of yourself.