When your baby begins to crawl around by himself, you can be assured of a devoted follower. Bathroom doors are no longer closed, and every task requires a creativity you may never have thought you had. Two of the most important characteristics you can develop to help you stay relaxed are keeping a sense of humor and understanding the impermanent nature of childhood stages.

When your child gets on his feet, the roles reverse. You become your child’s devoted follower, for heaven knows what he is going to get into next. A “childproof” house is essential, so that you can be assured there is not much in harm’s way. Great playthings include household items without potential for harm.

Tools as Toys: Cooking

At this later toddler stage, you can add other creative options. Young ones love to emulate you, so miniature versions of your cooking and cleaning supplies can be helpful; while you’re making dinner, the little one can be at your feet stirring her own pot. Plastic bowls that fit inside one another make for hours of fun, as do the same kind of containers with easy-fit lids. Your child can practice putting things in and taking them out. Big boxes from moving companies with holes cut out for windows make great disposable playhouses. Paper towel tubes can make marvelous toys, as can large paper bags and other things that are free, recyclable, and don’t present a hazard.

You can keep a stool handy for little kids to help at the counter, and whenever possible let them pour their own drinks from a tiny pitcher into a tiny cup during mealtimes — cultivating coordination as well as a sense of involvement.

Tools as Toys: Gardening

One project my kids always loved was making their own Easter baskets. In February, I bought cheap baskets at a large craft store, and a bag of soil and some grass seed. We lined the baskets with foil and my kids, using small plastic bowls or cups, added soil almost to the top. Then they sprinkled grass seed on top, and covered it with another small layer of soil. They put their baskets on the seat by the bay window, and watered them with my sprinkling can every other day. When Easter came around, the baskets were full of beautiful green grass. The night before Easter Sunday, the Easter bunny came and filled their baskets with treats, covered them with Saran wrap, and hid them. I dipped the end of my fingers and thumb together into some brown paint, and placed bunny footprints all over the place.

You can get big buttons and sew them on pieces of felt, cutting buttonholes in another piece, and let your child play with buttoning things. Purchase or make a cardboard sewing toy, with holes in the board and a big plastic “needle” with yarn.

Real Tools

Kids love to help out. Saying yes to those offers is more important than we might imagine and helps us raise kids who are more likely to take on household responsibilities as they get older.

Rather than toy versions of tools, get them appropriately sized real tools (to use with supervision). You can get plenty of useful, not-too-large tools at your local hardware store. As kids get older, invest in adult-sized tools they can use for a lifetime. Starting at four years old they can have woodworking tools and access to scrap wood. If they love to turn machines on and off, You can get them a hand vac as a gift. They’ll use it for years, immediately on the scene to vacuum up crumbs like a man on a mission.

I saw a video once where a baby was giggling, bouncing with joy as her father ripped a piece of paper. She apparently thought that was hysterical! Who needs toys?

Observe, and Practice Madhuvidya

At this age constant supervision is a must. Observing your toddler is fascinating and can teach you a lot about being present. See how totally in the moment she is, how complete her concentration can be when she is involved in an interesting task. At this point, she will often wander back to home base (you) to touch in, making sure that you are still there, that continuity and safety are maintained as she begins to widen her interest in exploring her environment.

These are the months and years of practicing what in the great spiritual tradition of India is called madhuvidya, or “sweet knowledge.” This means simply the realization that all is one; no one activity, person, or time is more important than another. This may be the only period in your life, for a very long time, when you have the chance to learn about this so urgently, for as your children grow, you all get busy with worldly life and with others.

Think About It: You are a Higher Power to Your Child

When you know that in some sense you represent the Tao, Infinite Consciousness, God to your child, you can begin to deepen your own relationship to your spiritual base. Thus, your observation of the relationship between yourself and your child can teach you a lot about Oneness.

What kind of God do you believe in? How do you want God to relate to you? Is God all-loving, all-forgiving? Does God love you unconditionally? Do you want to be lifted up when you fall? Do you want your prayers answered? Do you want help to find and empower yourself, your destiny, and your dreams? Do you want your Higher Power to listen to you patiently and comfort you, not leave you alone to tough it out? That is what a parent needs to be for his or her child.

As you practice being that way, you begin to realize you have a greater — some say higher or deeper — power in your life that cares for you in the same way. So, to practice being the Tao for your child every day brings you closer to God (a thousand names for the force that guides the universe), and also helps your child stay connected to the spiritual source from which he has come.

Help Yourself with Relaxation

The precious toddler years are a time for this level of spiritual learning for parents. Often your toddler needs you to simply witness him play; you may sometimes feel like you are doing nothing, and impatience can set in and grow. In many other countries where extended families live together, this is when grandparents come in to provide the patient, observing, teaching witness a child needs. In western countries, parents are required to be both this slowed down, tranquil, in-the-present witnessing “master” and the busy manager of the family. It’s a daunting job. For the sake of your child’s and your own spiritual growth, take time every day to be in the present with your little one. It is more important than the seemingly urgent things that call you away. When you are old, these seemingly empty moments are what you will remember as real. Remember, as the Taoist masters do, that relaxation is fullness, not emptiness. What is real remains, the rest falls away.

If You Want Something Done, Ask a Busy Person

As children grow, and especially when more children come, life gets more hectic and relaxation takes on a different quality and meaning for parents. In my circle of friends, I noticed that the most relaxed parents were the ones who happily had four or five kids! By then, they had surrendered. While their households were messy and noisy, and one or the other parent was always in the car, driving kids to various practices and functions, there was a kind of flow to the chaos. Perhaps these parents had found the “zone” where one thing just flowed into another, where all was included, and they realized it was useless to sweat the small stuff. I studied these parents to learn that art.

Somehow these parents always found time for their relationship, and each of them had outside interests they continued to cultivate through it all. The only way they were able to do this was to have a strong sense of mission, to understand the importance of balance and role modeling, and to consciously, each week or month, make decisions as to what they would and would not do, what they were willing to forego in the short term for their long-range mission: a happy family.

I also knew stressed-out parents who never took time for themselves and each other. Creating a happy family takes parents committed to certain kind of mission and lifestyle, and often, while we start with the best intentions, at some point we lose focus, drift apart, allow betrayals to fester into permanent rifts, and divorce to happen. Some people are better partners than they are parents, and vice versa. Some can do both smoothly. The Tao teaches us to accept it all and try to attain a level of relaxation through all the changes life brings our way.

Handling Change

If you are on a path of spiritual attainment, it is bound to bring you changes you are not at all comfortable with, changes that naturally tighten your defenses. When I was pregnant with my first child, I had been meditating for years, four to six hours a day. I realized as my pregnancy progressed that I would no longer have hours to sit in meditation alone and in silence. Everything had to change. After trying to figure out how I could still meditate in the way in which I was accustomed, my baby was born — unless I relaxed and accepted big changes, I was bound to be unhappy.

began to think, I will be all-knowing, unconditionally loving, I will be a guru to this child; I will represent God — the Way — the Tao. Knowing this prepared me for parenting in a way no book could prepare me. My meditation took a back seat. It was time for me to learn madhuvidya — meditation in action. My mothering became my meditation; I was God to my baby — he was God to me.

The practice then is not to ward off change (which is impossible) but to notice when change is causing you to tighten. At those times, consciously allow your body and mind to relax and slow down enough to understand the deeper reality and make better decisions. Let your children know this is what you are doing, and you can teach them to relax as well.

Babies show you clearly that from the beginning, change is stressful. You can model a relaxed way of handling change, and you can teach your baby how to relax. This is one of the many benefits of infant massage; you must relax and slow down to be with your baby in this way. Part of the massage routine (Touch Relaxation) is teaching your baby to relax his body when you touch him through conditioned response.

Pay Attention to What is Not Happening

In Taoism, it is important to keep an awareness of emptiness. That is, what is not there is as important as what is there. The t’ui who circle is a calligraphic meditation on this subject, in which the student makes a circle with a calligraphy pen and meditates upon it. Without the emptiness of what the circle contains, there is no circle. So it is important to pay attention to what is not happening as well as what is. A child’s silence does not mean he has nothing on his mind.

Establish Trust

Make a physical connection through massage and relaxation at bedtime to facilitate talks with an older child. Especially if you have massaged your kids as babies, giving them nightly massages creates an atmosphere of trust. If your child needs to cry or express fear, let her; assure her that what she feels is natural, that she is always guided and protected, and that it is okay to cry sometimes, to let out tension, frustration, fear, or grief.


Let “Relax, Slow Down, Breathe” be Your Motto


The 1 minute Meditation Technique that will change your life – Brisbane Kids.

The best part about this meditation technique is that it works with kids too. Get everyone to sit in a circle with their backs to each other. Lead them through this process. The first dozen times you will find it quite a verbal activity but slowly this will become second nature- You might just need to say “Hear”, “See”, “Smell”, “Feel”. This is something you can do every day as a family activity. Your kids will LOVE this. Remember it will take them a little while to get used to it- but schedule it in after teeth cleaning at night or before you head out the door in the morning. Its simply wonderful.

Craft a Parenting Mission Statement — Part Two

Longer Version

To complete a more in-depth Parenting Mission Statement, you and/or your partner can set aside some time, perhaps a Sunday morning, when you can answer the following questions and then blend them into a mission statement that feels right to you. Nothing is carved in stone. You can add, delete, and modify your statement as time progresses. I personally take some time on January first each year to go over my mission statements and change them appropriately. When you finish, you will have a paragraph or phrase that represents your most deeply held principles.

Answer the questions as honestly as you can, and follow the directions to complete a Parenting Mission Statement that will guide you through the coming years.

1. Were there times in your childhood or adolescence when you thought, “I will never treat my children that way?” If so, write about these experiences. What aspects of your mother’s and/or father’s parenting style do you think were counterproductive?


My mother worked very hard as a nurse and a single mother of five children. Her day off was spent cleaning the house and doing laundry. She was always very grouchy that day, and she often yelled at me and sometimes hit me with a belt when I didn’t do what she told me to in the right way. I felt unfairly persecuted and vowed never to be like her. Now I understand how much stress she was dealing with, and why she sometimes “snapped.”

It was counterproductive for her to hold all that stress inside until it exploded on her children. Hitting may have relieved her immediate stress but ultimately it created deep resentment in me, and she must have felt guilty, which stressed her even more. It would have been more productive for her to sit down with me and tell me how she was feeling, why she needed my help, and request the kind of cooperation she needed. It also would have helped me feel more responsible and closer to her if she apologized after losing her temper instead of blaming me.


2. Think of the times you felt close to your parent(s), or when you felt admiration for them and write about these experiences.


I admired my mother for her sense of responsibility and her ability to sacrifice for her children. She always made sure that holidays were celebrated with all the magic she could muster, regardless of how little money we had. I felt close to her when she spent time one-on-one with me, during our annual shopping day for school clothes. She took me out to lunch at a fancy restaurant, and I felt very special. I also felt good when she gave me good feedback about myself, noticed when I did something well, and attended functions that were important to me.

Now try to distill these experiences into several words or phrases:




unconditional love


quality time one-on-one

3. Now sit with your list for a while. Is anything missing? Think of other people you admire as parents. What do you admire most about them? If, as a child, you had been able to have anything you wanted from your parents, what would that be? Write down your answers to these questions. If you come up with tangibles such as more physical affection or a room of your own or a pet, think about what these things represent to you (love, respect, trust).


I wish I’d had more one-on one time with my mother. I wish she had helped me more, especially when I was a teenager, to learn how to be an adult. For example, I wish she had helped learn how to balance a checkbook and take care of a car. I wish she had been more open about her own experiences growing up and that we could have had conversations about issues like sexuality and politics, rather than one-way lectures. I wish she had shown me more physical affection. I wish my mother had been able to request and elicit cooperation rather than demand obedience. The families I admire most talk a lot with each other, and they joke and tease a lot; there is laughter in the house and a feeling of warmth and welcome. My house growing up, because of our financial situation and other problems, was pretty tense. I wouldn’t want that for my children.

4. Go back to your list of words or phrases from questions 1 and 2 that represent your values and the qualities you want to have as parents. Add the concepts you came up with from question 3. If a word or phrase from question 3 is basically the same as one of the original words, or if you feel deeply about something, underline it.







help with learning how to be an adult



unconditional love

quality time

Another example:

Some people like to make an anagram from their list of positive attributes, such as SMILE:






5. Now write a statement in first-person present tense, incorporating the values you defined into a Parenting Mission Statement


I love my children unconditionally and I demonstrate that love to them every day in words and actions. I allow them to discover and learn by themselves and through play. I tell them I love them every day, and let them know I love them even when I am angry or disappointed or disagree with them. I respect my children and demonstrate respect in my words and actions. I allow them freedom of choice and respect their choices even when they are different from what I would choose. I am honest and open with my children, appropriately sharing with them my struggles and requesting their understanding and help when I need it. I continually seek out information about good parenting skills and improve myself as a parent every day. I admit my errors and make amends, and I allow my children to make mistakes and learn how to apologize and correct themselves. I find peaceable ways to discipline my children, never resorting to physical or verbal violence. I listen carefully to them and treat their concerns with the same respect I want for myself. I spend time with each child and encourage each child appropriately according to his or her needs. I take care of myself and my own needs so that I have positive energy to give to my children. I demonstrate the values I teach, knowing that my children learn primarily by my example and that the combination of my words and actions are what teaches them how to be a person of integrity. I create activities that help my children learn about positive sacrifice, serving their community and the world. As they grow into adulthood, I teach them the important skills required of an adult. I provide my children with deep roots in home and family, and wings to fly away into new experiences, knowing that love will always bring them home again.


The Value of a Mission Statement

A mission statement isn’t just a collection of idealistic phrases. It is a compass, a way to keep yourself on course as you handle all the variables of daily life. When you read your mission statement, it should make you smile and feel energized and inspired about the future.

Some people develop lengthy mission statements such as the previous example; others need only an anagram or a sentence or two. Take time with this project, if it catches your imagination, and dig as deeply as you can into your soul to find your true purpose as a parent. You may want to revise and rewrite portions of your mission statement as you learn more about parenting.

I wish you joy on this incredible journey. It began with an act of love. With consciousness and some deep internal work, you can create a beautiful family whose love continues in forever-expanding circles, touching our communities and even healing the world.

© 2014 Vimala McClure

Craft a Parenting Mission Statement — Part One

Clearly and Accurately Define Your Goal

Whether you are a new or expecting parent, or if you have older children, you can make a Parenting Mission Statement to guide you through the future. Before putting your deeply held principles to work, it is important to know what you are trying to achieve. In The Seven Habits of Highly EffectivePeople, Stephen Covey says,”Begin with the end in mind.” Everything we do begins in the mind. First we create a mental picture, then the physical manifestation follows. The more clearly we can define our goal, the more quickly and accurately we can reach it.

We are often caught up in the busy hustle of everyday life, reacting to everything that comes our way. We react automatically, based on what we have internalized — the “blueprint” of information we have from our life experiences. Parents are often surprised to hear themselves sounding exactly like their own parents. These internalized scripts are usually ineffective, sometimes outright destructive. Many people just go along reacting to everything in this way, not examining their blueprints and creating something new for themselves — and then they wonder why their children are disrespectful, sullen, and rebellious.

We Have the Power to Change the Scripts We Have Been Given

We all have the power to change the scripts we have been given, to alter them so they accurately reflect our values and the timeless principles we decide to consciously embrace. The operative word is consciously; it requires a deep desire and daily practice to change. We must examine our values with regard to our families, and engage with our principles as passionately as we can. Only then will we have the requisite spiritual fortitude to communicate those values appropriately to our children. Covey says, “If you want to raise responsible, self-disciplined children, you have to keep that end clearly in mind as you interact with your children on a daily basis. You can’t behave toward them in ways that undermine their self-discipline or self-esteem.”

Kids Know When You Respect Them

Children are experts at detecting hypocrisy. They know, even if on a subconscious level, when you are parroting sermons rather than communicating what you deeply feel and believe; in this way, they lose respect for you. They also know if you respect them. In over thirty-five years of working with babies and parents, it has become very clear to me that even infants know if their parents respect them or not. Babies invariably become fussy and irritable when their caregivers are doing the right things but their minds are a million miles away. Nobody likes to be treated like an object.

QUOTE 2RESPECTING BABIES_oThanks to Janet Lansbury

Consider Parenting as a Mission

Becoming aware of our deeply held principles and committing ourselves to living congruently with them is the means by which we realize our mission as parents. “Mission” may sound very big. But what is bigger than being a parent? What job or role is more important? What has a more direct and intimate affect on society, or creates a greater legacy for generations to come? When we think of parenting in terms of “mission,” we begin to give this part of our lives the respect it deserves.

Qualities to Model for Our Children

For good or ill, you learned most about being a parent from your own parents’ example. Bringing both the positive and negative sides of these childhood experiences out into the open can help you clarify what you want and what you do not want. Sometimes we need to start with what we do not want, and this will show us the way to what we want. Being congruent with what we deeply want is the best insurance for happiness and success. Being what we admire in others engenders high self-esteem, perseverance through hard times, and joy for living — all important qualities to model for our children.


Your Parenting Mission Statement

Completing the following short version can help you write a paragraph, a sentence, or even a few words that will express the values you feel are most important to you as a parent. Your Parenting Mission Statement is your compass that guides you through the beautiful, messy, amazing, turbulent, and — always — worthwhile waters of parenthood.

The following exercises can help you clarify which aspects of your mission as a parent are most important to you. Set aside some time to complete them and commit yourself to total honesty. I have included, with permission, the responses of a friend who completed the exercise for me.

Short Version

Imagine that your children are grown and they have become successful, happy, and famous. They are interviewed for television and asked, “How did your parents contribute to your success and happiness?” What do you want them to say?


 I want my children to say that their parents supported them in every way. I want them to say we taught them values of integrity and responsibility, that they were loved unconditionally, and that their parents’ values and sacrifices made it possible for them to succeed. I want them to smile when they think of us. I want to see their love and respect for us shining in their eyes.

Now distill this into a paragraph, a sentence, or a few words that reflect, in present tense, from your point of view, what you want to be as a parent.

Example Parenting Mission Statement:

I support my children in every way to find their dreams and achieve them. I teach them integrity and responsibility by modeling these values in my own life. I love them unconditionally, and I make sure they know that every day. I am willing to sacrifice, if necessary, so that my children may succeed. I earn my children’s respect by being a good role model for them to follow.

Next: Craft a Parenting Mission Statement — Longer Version

© 2014 Vimala McClure

Relax with Your Baby

Relax with Your Baby

Remember the principle of relaxation and design your baby’s room to be as low maintenance as possible. Imagine the toddler’s curiosity, not the cute little bundle with matching everything. Large storage bins allow toddlers to put their toys away without special skills or manual dexterity. A warm place for massage gives the baby a place both you and she associate with relaxation and to which she can go for massages or naps as she grows older. Easy-to-clean surfaces help save you time that you can then give to your baby. Forget the knickknacks and clutter; help your baby connect with the natural world rather than the commercial world with its endless array of things that are forced upon the child by media and culture.


I’ve always thought, as the Taoists believe, that the best mobile is leaves dancing on the branch of a tree. The best toys are large wooden spoons, plastic bowls from the kitchen, water, a cardboard box, or puppets made from socks. I went to a moving-products place and bought, for pennies, a large box for moving clothing that was hung by a bar. I ditched the bar, put the box on its side, and had a great little “cave” that could be decorated; I cut little “windows” and let the kids take their toys, pillows, blankets, etc. inside. My kids would go for these simple things over the colorful and noisy commercial toys, even though when (as they got older) they saw the commercial toys on television or in the toy store, they wanted them with the kind of greed stimulated by modern advertising — even as toddlers. They had some of each, with an emphasis on the simpler things. They didn’t grow up mentally deficient in the least. In fact, they both have the creativity of thought and heart that can come from such an upbringing.

The first few months with a new baby in the house can be magical and also challenging. Consider all the factors at play: a new lifestyle, with perhaps one parent at home with the baby and the other working hard to keep the finances in balance; a new mother’s hormones, which rearrange themselves daily; and sleep deprivation, which affect the parents’ emotions, patience, and ability to concentrate — particularly the mother if she is breast-feeding and getting up often at night to do so. Each stage the baby goes through brings up a whole set of needs in terms of paraphernalia — carseats, baby wearing, bathtubs, changing tables, strollers, etc.

If it is possible, I suggest both partners go over their parenting mission statement together once a month, talking about the issues that come up during the previous month, resolving areas of stress before they become long-held resentments. Both parents must realize they are bing called upon to stretch the boundaries of what they previously considered to be their limits. Parents who work outside the home may no longer be able to come home and just relax and have a quiet meal. Those who stay home with the baby may suffer loneliness for other adults, may miss recognition in their jobs, and self-esteem may suffer if they don’t get enough recognition and support for the difficult job they’ve volunteered to do without a paycheck.


Time-Out for the Full-Time Parent

I remember when my husband walked in the door at five o’clock or so, I’d practically throw the baby at him and run toward a hot bath, yelling, “Your turn! I need a break! Leave me alone!” He needed a break too, but was willing and eager to do his part. Finally we worked out a system. He would arrive home from work, sit down for fifteen minutes with the newspaper or whatever, as I kept myself and my temper under wraps. Then I would give the baby to him, take my hot bath or a walk, breathe, relax, and meditate. When I returned he had changed the baby, and if I hadn’t had a chance to begin dinner, he strapped on the front pack and started the meal. Then we’d all sit down to eat together, literally, as my baby was a demanding breastfeeder who wanted to nurse whenever he smelled food. There were times I’d use my hot-bath time to cry or to write my stress away; other times I’d take a book with me for inspiration or entertainment during the first and only time all day I could call my own.

My husband took charge of bedtime while I used the time to clean up the house, do dishes, and so on. Our roles fell into place. I had to do most of the nighttime getting up, since we were nursing, but having a large “family bed” helped me get much needed rest in the meantime. At night when the baby was inconsolable from colic, often my husband would get up and massage the baby to relieve colic and then lull him to sleep in the front pack, walking the living room floor. I’d wake in the morning to see them both asleep on our giant beanbag chair, the baby snuggled into the pack on my husband’s chest. The gratitude I felt at those moments is beyond words.

Part of our mission was to bring our children up in a relaxed, easy-going household in which they were loved, valued, respected, and “spoiled” in the best sense of the word. That is, they would be given all the love and understanding we could possibly muster, and we would release, at least temporarily, the need for the kind of control that leads to tension (such as needing the house to be perfect). One father I knew, whose wife had died, said he thought he had been very involved with his children before. But he said, “I didn’t know how removed I was until I had to do all the thousands of things it takes to raise a child.”

When the Baby Keeps Crying

When the baby cries and you feel you can’t handle it any more, if possible ask someone else to hold the baby while you do your relaxation exercises (the Controlled Belly Breathing discussed in the last post). Even five minutes of Controlled Belly Breathing can bring you back to center and get your mental faculties working again. Think of an affirmative thought, such as, “I release fear and tension and go with love to comfort my baby. Crying is just crying.”


Like all of us, babies have many different reasons to cry. Most of the time, it is the only means of communication they have, and because they can’t talk about it they cry. Unfortunately, we have lost much of our capacity to intuit their thoughts and feelings. Most people are able to recognize a sharp cry of pain, but our interpretation of other cries and fusses are filtered through the veil of our own insecurities and projections. It may be easier to adopt a mechanistic philosophy, whereby we always respond in the same way — either to ignore or to hush. But babies are not interested in philosophy and are unable to attend to their parents’ or anyone else’s comfort. They need the response of clear thinking, caring, centered adults to help them find a way through this world of unknowns.

A trip to the store or a friend’s house can bring on a crying spell after the baby is home and “safe”.  Allowing some venting and responding with compassion and not alarm is the best and easiest way to let your child release the stress these new encounters can induce. Gradually, the baby gets the message: it’s okay to cry, it’s no big deal. I am still loved, and I feel better now. What is required of parents is a conscious effort to raise their own stimulation threshold, to tolerate more noise, and to take it easy.

If infants can be helped to raise their own stimulation threshold and to use relaxation as a way to slowly vent stress instead of letting it build to explosion, they can carry these ideas with them into childhood. Massage time, in the beginning, may not be all smiles and sleepiness; many babies fuss through their massage, venting the stress that has built up in their bodies. After a massage, however, their sleep is deeper. Gradually fussing diminishes as the stimulation threshold increases and the baby’s body learns how to release stress gradually throughout the day rather than having it build up.

What Crying Means to You

To begin to develop a more centered awareness, observe yourself when your baby (or someone else’s) cries. When you understand your reactions, you will be able to understand the baby. Notice what a crying baby stimulates in you. Breathe deeply, relax your body, do your exercise. If it is someone else’s baby, imagine that it is you, and picture yourself, as an adult, soothing (not hushing) yourself as an infant. It is not necessary to overanalyze yourself or your baby. Just take some time to think about how you respond to your baby’s cues. Eventually you will find the intuitive bond growing between you and your infant, and your confidence in understanding his needs increasing day by day.

Daily massage can be a tremendous aid in this process, because it helps you to literally keep in touch with your baby’s body language and nonverbal signals. It also helps you to slow down and relax. It teaches your baby to learn how to relax and that relaxation is an important part of life. I can’t emphasize enough how helpful the first six moths of massage can be in developing your lifelong relationship of relaxation, communication, and openness with your child. Feeding is another time when Controlled Belly Breathing can help both you and your baby slow down and relax.

Babies Need to be Heard

Infants need to be heard as much as anyone. I have seen many remarkable instances in which a baby’s responsiveness and general disposition has completely changed after being truly heard.

Doctors Eileen and Tom Paris contend that part of creating a healthy relationship with our children is owning our feelings and expressing them as our own. They say, “For example, telling a startled newborn, with kindness, ‘I see you were startled when Mommy and Daddy yelled and had a fight. Grownups get angry sometimes, especially when we are tired. You’re okay, we love you,’ mitigates the effect of the fighting.” You may think, ‘how is a newborn going to understand that?.’ They do! Most of our communication is in the tone of our voice, our body language, and our intention. These are communicated very clearly to your baby. Even though it is true that adult fighting stresses children (even in utero), never feeling angry is an unreasonable expectation for either ourselves or our children.


We begin, as soon as our baby is born (and even before) to show him the respect he deserves and an individual human being with his own feelings, memories, and experiences. We can help and teach our babies to “talk out” their stress and thus enjoy a more relaxed and productive life.

I was demonstrating some massage strokes on a baby in one of my seminars. The baby had been premature and had undergone the additional trauma of an injury to the skin of her chest that caused some scarring. Her mother said that she enjoyed being massaged, except she could not tolerate having her chest touched.

The baby responded well and accepted the massage for her legs, feet, and stomach. But when I reached the chest area, she began to cry. Rather than stopping and shushing her, I continued to gently mold my hands to her chest in what I call “Resting Hands.” I started to actively listen to what she might be saying through her tears. “Yes, you’ve really been through a lot of pain,” I said. “Tell me all about it, I’m listening.” She cried hard. Her mother looked at me and with a look, I asked her to let me stay with the baby. After a moment, the baby’s mouth began taking on a different quality. She moved her mouth as if talking, though she was crying. She looked at me intensely, as if she was trying to tell me something very important.

“You were very brave, and I know your mommy is very proud of you,” I said, “and when you’re ready to let go of that pain, she’s here to help. We all love you very much.” I continued to gently hold her chest as she cried, and let her know I was listening to her. After several minutes, her cries decreased and her mother picked her up to comfort her.

The next day her mother brought her again for a demonstration. This time, when I began massaging her chest, she opened her arms and smiled at me. Her mother turned to me with tears in her eyes, saying this was the first time the baby had ever been able to accept someone touching her chest. Later, the baby’s mother reported that she loved being touched and fully accepted a complete massage.

Actively and compassionately listening to an infant isn’t much different than listening to a child or an adult. It requires empathy, genuine love, and respect for the infant’s experience. I believe that the reason it is so difficult for us to listen to our babies is that our own infancies may have been full of frustration and unheard feelings. When we hear our babies cry, rather than truly listening to what they say, we superimpose our own “inner infant.” Our overwhelming impulse is to quiet that baby.

How to Listen to a Baby

I go through a three-step process when a baby I’m with begins to talk, to fuss, or to cry. First, I take a long, slow, deep breath and relax my whole body. This directly counteracts the tendency to hold my breath and tighten up.

Second, I set aside my own “inner infant” for a moment, recognizing that in order to truly hear this baby, I must relax and clear myself.

Third, I connect with the baby, making eye contact if possible. If the baby avoids eye contact, I place my hands gently but firmly on her body and connect through my hands. I let my energy go to the baby, and tell her with my voice, my eyes, and my hands that I would like to hear what she has to say.

baby massage

Then I stay with the baby, keeping myself in a very relaxed and receptive state. I listen and respond, and observe the baby’s body language. I watch her mouth and what she says with her eyes. I have noticed over and over again that, when a baby is intently listened to in this way, her crying or “babbling” takes on a different quality. The baby’s mouth will begin to move as if she is talking, moving expressively. The baby’s eye contact may become very focused, as if she intensely wants to communicate. When I am sure the baby feels heard and has said most of what she has to say, I or her caregiver offer to help her get sensorially organized again by walking, patting, bouncing. Invariably, a baby who feels heard will sleep more deeply afterward and will further extend herself in trust the next time I see her.

You may be thinking this is “poppycock.” I assure you, after working with babies for many years, I experienced the same things over and over again. If I can connect with any baby in this way, your efforts as a parent will be surprisingly  successful. Release any skepticism and give it a try.

Relax During Pregnancy and Birth

Note: I am using the principles, values, and practices of Taoism, and of its martial art Tai Chi. Taoism is not a religion, and I am not asking you to practice Tai Chi. I found a wonderful correlation between what I studied in Taoism and my own deep thoughts around what I believe is essential to practice “right parenting.” Whatever religion (or non-religion) or spiritual path you ascribe to, you will find compatible with the ideas I share with you here. I would love to hear about your experiences with every principle and value I write about.

Use Controlled Belly Breathing (see previous post)

Partners can participate together in this practice. After the baby is born, massage will be as much a part of your daily routine as changing diapers, so now is a good time to slow down and make that time. It is the beginning of your conscious choice to spend loving, listening time with your child your day’s most important priority.


The Prenatal Environment

Dr. Bruce Lipton, in an article on maternal emotions and the development of the prenatal infant, says, “The information relayed by the mother to the fetus concerns the status of the environment. The mother’s attitudes about life convey this status. The mother’s emotions, such as fear,  anger, love, hope, among others, can biochemically alter the genetic expression of the offspring . . . The mother’s blood-borne emotional chemicals cross the placenta and affect the same target cell in the fetus as those in the parent.”

An article in Science Magazine is 1996 reveals that parents pass more on to their infants than their genes. Studies revealed that maternal emotions can profoundly enhance the baby’s chances for thriving and even influence its ability to adapt to the environment. Recent evidence suggests that even though a child may be affected by specific genetic defects, such as Tourette’s syndrome, non-genetic factors such as the prenatal environment, modify the degree of severity of a gene’s defect.

More and more we are finding that parents affect their babies even before conception. For example, a father who smokes damages his sperm and passes a higher risk of childhood cancer to his offspring. Research consistently supports the idea that even before birth an infant is profoundly affected by its parents’ activities and emotions. Being as relaxed, happy, well nourished, and as stress free as possible gives your baby the best possible start in life.

Massage and Self-Massage Important for Pregnancy

In every bird and mammal studied, close physical contact is essential both to the infant’s healthy survival and to the parent’s ability to nurture. In studies with rats, if researchers restrained pregnant females from licking themselves (a form of self-massage), their mothering activities were substantially diminished. In many studies, when pregnant female animals were gently stroked every day, their offspring showed higher weight gain and reduced excitability, and the mothers showed greater interest in their offspring, with a more abundant and richer milk supply. Evidence supports the same conclusions for humans.

Mothers Who Experience Stress and Anxiety During Pregnancy 

‘More likely to have babies who cry for longer’

According to the latest research, women who experience stress, worry or panic attacks before and/or during pregnancy are more than twice as likely to report that their babies cried excessively. Experts suggest an infant’s excessive crying, if not from digestive or other physiological problems, may be due to the mother’s production of stress hormones during pregnancy, which cross the placenta and affect the development of a baby’s brain. A parenting specialist, Dr. Clare Bailey, said: “Mothers can easily get into a traumatic negative cycle when worrying about a newborn. The more they worry, the less they sleep and calm themselves, and the more they worry. Anxiety can make them hyper vigilant, distressed by crying, and they can feel rejected by their babies. It intuitively sounds likely that a calm mother who feels relaxed, comfortable and confident will be more likely to help a baby to self-settle. Babies can pick up emotional cues very early on.”

The research, published in the journal Archives of Disease in Childhood, looked at nearly 300 women who were in the early stages of pregnancy. Researchers asked about their history of anxiety and depression, and interviewed them during their pregnancy and until their children were 16 months old. Ten percent of women with anxiety disorders reported excessive crying following the birth. Further analysis found that babies born to women with an anxiety disorder were significantly more likely to cry for longer periods.

Massage During Pregnancy and Infant Massage Reduce Babies’ Crying

It is possible for stress hormones to cross the placenta and contribute to an infant’s crying spells. Infant Massage addresses this by 1. helping the baby’s gastrointestinal system mature, 2. addressing the baby’s (and a mother’s) need for close, loving contact, and 3. helping mothers feel empowered to help their infants feel secure, loved, and attached.

Loving Massage During Pregnancy Benefits Both Mom and Baby

Mothers who have meaningful skin contact during pregnancy and labor tend to have easier labors and are more responsive to their infants. In addition, research has shown that mothers whose pregnancies are filled with chronic stress often have babies who cry more and for longer periods than those whose pregnancies were peaceful and supported.

Preparing for the Birth of Your Baby

Taking a childbirth education class together can help both you and your partner prepare for the baby’s arrival. Practicing the relaxation and breathing techniques at home can slow you down enough to begin talking about the deeper issue of what each of you feel is important that this child receive. You may each want to make a parenting mission statement and compare notes, combining your ideas into a new mission statement that encompasses both.

Long warm baths, massages, and periods of deep relaxation each day can help you sort out all the information coming your way and to feel what it is this baby needs and what your soul has chosen to learn by being this baby’s parent. If this isn’t your first child, dedicating time to relaxation is not so easy; it is necessary that a partner supports, values, and participates in activities to help you relax and connect with your new baby.


Try to imagine different scenarios and how you might handle them.

For example:

— What if your baby hardly ever sleeps through the night?

— Are you going to breastfeed? If so, how might you change your diet to help support a balanced state of mind and body?

— Are you going to have someone else minding the baby? If so, look closely at the character of that person. Is he or she the kind of person who easily adapts to changes of mood, who easily incorporates babies into the world, who is unruffled by noise and chaos? Can that person relate to the deeper issues we are discussing here?

— What if your baby needs to be held much of the time? Are you and/or your partner willing to cooperate in “baby-wearing”?

— Who will massage the baby, and when? Read books on the subject and discuss them with each other — not just logistics, but the concepts they encompass with regard to your family’s future habits of interaction.

— What if the baby has health problems that change your plans? How can you still hold to the principle of relaxation?

— What if you find yourself suffering with postpartum depression? Do you have a therapist or healer who can help you with this?

— Very few parents take the time to reflect on these things — and yet discussing things like this is tremendously helpful in the months and years ahead.


The Qualities of Water

Using the Taoist meditation on the qualities of water helped me throughout my parenting years, but especially during my pregnancies and the first year of life for my children.  During my pregnancies I spent a lot of time in warm water, relaxing and floating, getting in touch with my baby on a deep inner level and relaxing my body through the weightlessness. I thought about the water’s fluidity and flexibility, and how when a bit dripped from my finger, not only did it join the whole, but it made ripples that spread outward to the limits of the water. I knew, with a deep inner certainty, that I could be that “drop” in my children’s lives and thereby affect the world.

Water Nourishes Without Needing to be Nourished

Water is the most yielding of all things, yet it can overwhelm that which is most hard — rock. Water nourishes without needing to be nourished. Like water, which nourishes all things without discrimination and without needing anything in return, good parents give selflessly to their children. They provide for their children’s physical welfare, intellectual growth, emotional security, and spiritual connection without expecting anything in return. They are willing to sacrifice, if necessary, so their children may grow and prosper. The “martyr”parent, who exacts payment in guilt for every sacrifice, is not part of this paradigm. We remember that every principle contains its polarity in seed form, and we can catch ourselves before fatigue or frustration goad us to shame our children for requiring so much of us.

Water Flows into Places Where There is Seemingly No Room

Water flows into places where there is seemingly no room. Rigid things can’t do this. Only that which is relaxed, yielding, and fluid can go into places of seemingly no space and be effective there. To get to this type of receptivity, a practice of conscious relaxation is a must. The single most effective thing most of us can learn is simply how to breathe deeply into our bellies and relax. When an individual dipper of water is placed into the ocean, it merges with the ocean as if separation never existed. Studying the qualities of water can give us important clues about how to relax and yield.

Practice Selfless Giving

Ideally, marriage prepares us for the bigger sacrifices required when children come along. We have the opportunity to practice selfless giving, to test and stretch ourselves, and to explore our programming. We may consider ourselves giving people, but sometimes when confronted by the stress of another’s need we discover how limited our patience can be. We may find ourselves doing and saying things that precisely echo the voices of our parents’ mistakes. But how do we then think and act to correct our course? It is exactly at those moments when we are most un-Godlike that we have the opportunity to choose to grow toward oneness rather than separation. So, the idea is not to suddenly (or ever) become the perfect parent; rather, it is to use parenting as our path — and discover, along the way, the excitement of a journey that gives us real opportunities to become what we wish to be.

Take Time for Personal Spiritual Renewal

Where do we get all this strength, if we are to endlessly give and provide? Again, water is our model. There is an ocean of consciousness from which all things are created. Some call it God or Goddess, some call it the Great Spirit or higher self; Taoist call it the Tao (pronounced dow) or the Way. Yielding like a cup of water yields to the ocean, we merge our consciousness into the great, eternal consciousness that creates and maintains all things, forever. Thus our strength is omnipotent, our well never runs dry. Wise parents take time for personal spiritual renewal so that the strength upon which we rest is that of the infinite source of our being.


Explore All Your Birthing Options

Because of some birth defects of my own, I had to give birth by Cesarean section and, back then, my choices were few. But I was able to remain awake and alert during their births and to hold and nurse them right away. Getting home as soon as possible was important to me, to get my babies into the kind of atmosphere I wanted for them right away. I encourage you to explore all your birthing options and choose those that feel right, comfortable, and good for you. Also consider that fate has a way of intervening, and that if things don’t go exactly as you wish, you still have plenty of time, choices, and opportunities to follow through on your principles.

© 2014 Vimala McClure

RELAX: intro

Note: I am using the principles, values, and practices of Taoism, and of its martial art Tai Chi. Taoism is not a religion, and I am not asking you to practice Tai Chi. I found a wonderful correlation between what I studied in Taoism and my own deep thoughts around what I believe is essential to practice “right parenting.” Whatever religion (or non-religion) or spiritual path you ascribe to, you will find compatible with the ideas I share with you here. I would love to hear about your experiences with every principle and value I write about.

“The simple reason for relaxation is that it renews us, purifies us, leaves us with a profound feeling of serenity . . .

In it, we are poised in our natural state.”

— Deng Ming-Dao, 365 Tao Daily Meditations

Relaxation, from the Taoist perspective, is the principle upon which everything is based. For us in the West, relaxation is something we do on our day off, or when we get a massage or do yoga. To us, relaxation implies being limp, flaccid, and empty. To Taoists, relaxation implies fulness. As a practice, it can take years to master and it is respected as a difficult discipline. But this is no problem — when you have children, years of mastering difficult disciplines come with the territory.


The word “yield” is often used to signify this principle. Again, it has a very different meaning in Taoism as it does in the West. When we consider the word “yield” as more than just a traffic sign, we picture surrendering to a stronger force — which in the West we often consider to be failure. We yield reluctantly, when there are no other options. To Tai Chi practitioners, yielding is the finest quality we can have. It means flexibility, clarity, faith, and surrender. It gets the maximum positive result from the minimum effort, and thus it is efficient, a much sought-after value in the West. Relaxation is a state of openness, allowing space for listening and receptivity. Taoists consider it a discipline because it takes a conscious intention to learn and practice it.

Relaxation is Essential

Relaxation— yielding to the flow of change — is essential for life. If we wish to continue to be full of life, we must learn to relax and yield, to flow. Like the young tree, we will be flexible and strong, ever-growing, with abundant youthful energy. If we cannot relax, we cannot listen to and truly hear out children, and we miss their messages to us, misinterpret their needs and wishes, and lose touch with who they are.


The Importance of Breathing

Like yoga, Tai Chi begins with slow movement and breathing. The combination of breathing and flow creates strength and flexibility. Breathing slowly and deeply increases our intake of prana — the life energy all around us. Prana is essential to our vitality. It is why we instinctively take a deep breath when we smell rain for the fragrant forest; these natural wonder are laden with prana, and our bodies crave the vital energy produced by them.

Controlled Belly Breathing

Slowing down your movements and breathing deeply are two easy ways to bring yourself into and relaxed and flexible way of being. You can teach yourself to go to these tools when you feel the tension of anger, frustration or fear hardening your heart and stiffening your body and mind.

If you do not practice meditation or deep relaxation on a daily basis, there is an easier method that you can incorporate into your daily routine with little effort. When children come along, you can include them in the practice, either doing it in front of them or teaching them to do it with you. I found with my meditation practice that my children became curious about what I was doing, and that curiosity led to many interesting and intimate conversations about God, nature, life, death, and miracles.

Controlled Belly breathing is a simple and effective practice. For this method to come in handy when you really need it (that is, when your child’s behavior has you one step away from doing and saying things you may regret), it helps to practice it every day, twice a day. It only takes three minutes, so it is easy to fit into your life.

“B” is for “Breathe”

I developed a kind of shorthand to remind me to do it. In my life, much of the time the plans that have not been thought out with my mission in mind do not happen. I label these plans Plan A: My ego plan. It is the immediate reaction to what has been said, or done; to your child’s crying or tantrum, your feelings of exhaustion, regret, being put-upon. The plan that ultimately happens, the response that always works, is God’s plan (or my higher self’s plan, “what would Jesus do?, “what would the Dalai Lama do?” – however you wish to put it). This is Plan B. I can always count on Plan B turning out so much better than Plan A that I learned to bypass Plan A altogether. Controlled belly breathing is a way to get you into Plan B; thus, the “B” is my reminder. “B” is for belly, “B” is for breath, and “B” is for be. This short little practice accomplishes all of those things in three minutes, so that Plan B can unfold immediately. 

How to Do Controlled Belly Breathing

  1. Sit in a chair and lace your fingers in your lap. Relax your body as much as possible.
  2. Blow out as much of the air in your lungs as possible, and imagine your tension going with it.
  3. Slowly breathe in through your nose, counting 1-and-2-and-3-and-4, feeling your belly rise as air goes to the very depth of your lungs, expanding your diaphragm.
  4. Slowly breathe out again, counting 1-and-2-and-3-and-4.

Repeat steps 1 through 4 for three minutes. You will notice a slight natural pause (not holding your breath ) at the upper and lower end of the breathing cycle. Let it be there. Keep your body relaxed, your mind engaged with the counting process and in relaxing your muscles.

Practice Every Day

I suggest you use this technique very consistently, upon waking and right before sleeping, each day for a month. Then you can practice under duress: during a traffic jam, a long elevator ride, waiting in the dentist’s office, on the subway, and particularly when you need a “time out”; when you feel your emotional temperature rising with your partner or children. You can excuse yourself (I like to go into the bathroom) or you can do it right then and there. You will feel Plan A turn into Plan B, you’ll calm down, center and focus your energies, and automatically use better parenting and partnering skills.


Sinking Power

When faced with a child who is testing your resolve, relax and yield in the manner of water. Absorb the child’s energy without moving. Sink your strength into the earth with the relaxing breath. Allow the child to bounce off your energy, discovering without harm the nature of your power.

Let everything you have — mind and body, thoughts and reactions, plans and avoidance of plans — sink with gravity into your feet to beneath the earth.

Relax your intention.

Put everything underground where it can support you.

Strewn anxiously through your body, it can only distract you.

This is called sinking power — and it is a good power to develop.

It can help you master all the principles to come.

The Principles of Tai Chi Offer Us a Metaphor for Right Parenting

An entirely different picture of “family” is emerging; 

most of the paradigms we have developed over the last millennium 

are no longer viable.


Because our family structures, our values, and our experience of family will continue to change, it is particularly important for us to understand that being a good parent and raising healthy, responsible children requires us to be grounded in the deeper meaning of the role of parent. We must be able to change beyond what may now seem possible to us, and the only way to achieve that is to develop a firm rooting in the spiritual dimension of parenthood.

Parenting as a Mission

What I know without any doubt is that bringing every gift I came here with, every iota of strength and wisdom, every droopy love and loyalty, everything I have, to the task, the mission, and the gift of bringing up two souls to live their own lives and fulfill their destinies is the most important thing I have ever done, or ever will do. I don’t expect this singularity of purpose from others, but because of it I have been able to pay close attention to the dynamics, the secrets, and the lessons of real parenthood — much more closely, I believe, than many academic experts who observe interactions in made-up environments and offer theories on what is healthy or correct and formulas that rarely “work.” What I attempt to do, rather, is to go deeper into the idea that parenting is a mission, however large or small a part it plays in your life. From that perspective, everything you think about parenting changes. It is no longer a series of problems to solve; it is, instead, an important part of your personal growth, and even your spiritual path.

We Rarely Look Very Far Ahead

The biological urge and the psychological need to bear children rarely help us look beyond pregnancy and birth. We may fantasize about what our child will be like. We may form some opinions about home or hospital birth, breast or bottle feeding, and about if or when we will put our children in day care. But few parents take the time to discover and define how being a parent fits into their lifelong mission. Few of us look ahead to how this new person will change our lives.

Our Children Arrive with Agendas of their Own

Sooner or later our children let us know they arrived in the world with agendas of their own. While we have a tremendous influence over the way they express and live out their agendas, we cannot mold and control them. They have as much to teach us as we want to teach them, and the wise parent realizes this early on. Because of this give-and-take dance, we sometimes feel out of step with our children and conflict arises. We may try to teach at a moment when we should be receptive. Our children may not listen to us because they have not been heard. Therefore, the dynamic of opposition is always arising in these relationships. We can learn how to dance with this flow of energy.

Using the Principles of the Martial Art Tai Chi

For example, in the ancient Chinese martial art practice of Tai Chi, the goal is not to defeat an opponent. Rather, we learn to flow with the energy of opposition, assisting its movement toward its natural conclusion, which is exhaustion. We defeat the “opponent,” then, by his own momentum rather than by stiff resistance. Ultimately our goal — peace and harmony — is reached without overt violence or force.

The principles of Tai Chi are based upon eternal truths: Tao (pronounced dow) is the immutable Being, the oneness toward which all beings are moving. Harmony prevails when we find harmony with the eternal flow of Tao. Strength is found in the persistent, gentle flow of the life-force. Water is often used as a symbol of the kind of strength we wish to develop; the gentle drip of water on rock eventually carves that rock as no brute force can. A river made the Grand Canyon; no bulldozer could create such a phenomenon.

Right Parenting

I use Tai Chi principles to communicate what I believe is good parenting — right parenting. In Tai Chi, you learn how to flow with the life force of the universe. You do not oppose an attacker’s force, you step aside and permit the attacker’s life energy to pass. As he is flying by, you give him a nudge to assist him to get where his momentum is taking him more quickly. You learn to ground your energy into the earth is such a way as to have all the strength of the earth within your body. When you master this practice, you are unshakeable.

A wise parent learns to discover the life force within and move with it to guide her children. When met with opposition, she grounds herself in the eternal and allows the opposition to exhaust itself naturally. She remains calm, providing an immutable base for her children’s growth. In this way, she teaches them how the universe works, provides a model of healthy parenting, and gains their trust and respect in the process.

Beginner’s Mind

The experience of parenting is as instructive and productive for you as it is for your child. Children help us define and refine our character. They give us many opportunities, challenges, and tests along the way. If we look ahead to the coming years with, as Buddhists say, “beginner’s mind,” we are excited about everything we will learn. There is no guru or mentor that can give us greater or deeper teaching than our children.