The Four Agreements of Parenting

About a week ago I fell down the overthinking rabbit hole. I had texted my son while he was out for the day and he wasn’t responding. While I have learned not to spam text when the don’t answer, the hours were ticking by and he just was choosing to not reply to my texts. My mind went everywhere, as our minds do. I was worried about his safety. I was pissed he was ignoring me. I was pissed at the people he was with for taking his time up and not being the type of people to encourage him to text his mother back.


By Dana Gornall

There are days—many days—when I wonder if my teenage daughter hates me.

Anyone who talks to me on a regular basis can attest to the fact that I bring this up on many occasions. Deep down inside I know she doesn’t hate me, really, or at least not most of the time. But it is hard not to take things personally when every word out of my mouth is met with eye rolls, sighs of irritation and the general feeling that she is merely putting up with my existence.

I see posts on social media of other parents smiling with their teenagers, and I wonder where I went wrong.

While I have always been a working mother, I went out of my way to be mindful of every moment with my children, or at least most moments. We did preschool in the park events, we went to the science museum and the art museum, we spent early weekday mornings on the beach eating muffins and looking for shells and beach glass.

There were many nights that I rocked them to sleep when they were small and we read books almost every night before bed—from Dr. Seuss in the early elementary years to Harry Potter and Percy Jackson in the later years. I made it a point to be a full-fledged mom, not because I had to or felt like I needed to but because they were and are my world.

And then they started to grow up.

One lesson that has hit me the hardest this past year or so is the realization that I don’t have control anymore. Now, I know I never really “had control” but in many ways I also did. I chose where we would eat or what I would cook. I chose what we would do on the weekends or in the evenings and what time they went to bed.

To raise kids completely you teach them to be autonomous and that has been my goal, but it has been a hard lesson to learn when they make choices I don’t agree with.

About 10 years ago or so, one of my yoga teachers knew I was struggling in my personal life and recommended The Four Agreements. This book helped changed my perspective on so many things. It was truly an eye opener.

With this in mind, the other day I searched for it among all my other books and flipped through the pages. Back when I first read it I was struggling with my marriage and in my workplace. Feeling uneasy and dissatisfied in every part of my day, this book helped me change my thinking. It wasn’t filled with affirmations and self care (although books like those have their place), rather it was a smack in the face telling me to wake up.

Not everything is about us. Seems like a simple message, but it is so easy to get wrapped up in ourselves and how everything and everyone is affecting us.

Coming back to this text, I realized how much this applies to parenting as well.

The First Agreement: Be Impeccable with your word.

It’s so easy when we as parents are stressed and overwhelmed to say something that is right at the tip of our tongues, and at times this can not be the best thing to say. Maybe you feel like your child isn’t doing what they are supposed to be doing. Maybe you asked him to take out the trash and he forgot…again. Maybe you are upset that he/she isn’t doing as well as you think they should be doing on school.

Words have power. Stop before you speak. Remember their under developed brains are in the process or forming all of those neural pathways. Do I mean we should only say bright happy positive things to our kids? No, we are human and children need to understand the balance of life.

We can’t shelter them from the array of emotions we all feel. But if it isn’t something you would want said to you, don’t say it to your kids. Be truthful, but be kind.

The Second Agreement: Don’t Take Anything Personally

I think I need to embroider this on every pillow in my house and paint in on my bedroom wall so it is the first thing I see when I wake up and the last thing I see when I go to sleep. Oh, how we take things personally, don’t we? Wasn’t that me that started this article with, “There are days when I wonder if my teenage daughter hates me?”

About a week ago I fell down the overthinking rabbit hole. I had texted my son while he was out for the day and he wasn’t responding. While I have learned not to spam text when the don’t answer, the hours were ticking by and he just was choosing to not reply to my texts. My mind went everywhere, as our minds do.

I was worried about his safety. I was pissed he was ignoring me. I was pissed at the people he was with for taking his time up and not being the type of people to encourage him to text his mother back. I berated myself for not being stricter, for not being more disciplined, for not being more attentive. I even blamed myself for being a working mother.

Then, I let it go. Yes it was hard. Yes, there was a tiny nagging worrier somewhere in the depths of my mind. But it occurred to me that this wasn’t about me. Maybe my son should be better about responding but he is wrapped up in his own life and his own story right now. He is on his own journey and learning about how to not make himself the center of everything.

As parents, yes we should parent. But we also have to realize their behavior is not always about us. Sometimes it is about our kids learning things for themselves.

The Third Agreement: Don’t Make Assumptions

This goes well with the second agreement. How often do we make assumptions about what other people are thinking, doing, or believing? How often are we doing this about our own children?

I have to interject here and say that I do have this innate ability to know when my kids are up to something. I think most parents reading this (especially the moms) are nodding their heads right now. Laugh if you will, but it is like this nudge, this twinge, prodding me to say, “Hey. Something is going on.” And most of the time I am right.

However, even with this proverbial mom sixth sense we can have, we do need to stop letting our thoughts rail over the reality of what our kids are doing. It is important to listen and observe. Sure, it is easy to get on our soap boxes and lecture. But it is so much more important to hear their voices.

We assume they are just these teenagers who don’t know any better or that they are doing XYZ or that they want XYZ, but instead of making that assumption, pay attention to what they are actually saying and doing.

The Fourth Agreement: Always Do Your Best

These one seems obvious. Of course I always do my best, Dana! I work my ass off making sure these children get what they need! I bring their forgotten lunches to school, I am in the PTO, I stay up until 2 am helping out with projects.

I think for most parents it is an instant reflex to do our best, or at least what we think is best. But this isn’t about art projects or the PTO. This about the enormous task of balancing. This is about understanding when we need to swoop in and give a hug and when to walk away from a door slammed in our face. This is about firm boundaries and rules when they are needed and letting go of control to let them spread their wings, jump off the nest and watching horrifyingly as they fall to the ground.

Most of all, it is understanding that we ourselves will make mistakes, do it all wrong, be exhausted and crabby and ready to give in, but still get back up and make ourselves better people so we can be there for our kids.

Always doing your best is not about making the brownies for the class bake sale or being a volunteer baseball coach. These things are all wonderful. But doing your best is just being there. Over and over and over again, no matter what.

I have often said that there is no better mirror to understand yourself more, than being a parent. There are those that will spend hours in meditation, go to retreats and ashrams, study texts and work with gurus, all to get just a drop of enlightenment. Choosing the parenting path is another practice.

And I can say that nothing has stripped my ego away more than this combination of loving so unconditionally with my heart and learning to hold and let go, hold and let go. One moment at a time.


Photo: Pixabay

Advisor: Peter Schaller


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Dana Gornall

Co-Founder & Editor at The Tattooed Buddha
Dana Gornall is the co-founder of The Tattooed Buddha and mom of three crazy kids and a dog. She has been writing stories since she could put words into sentences, and is completely in love with language of all kinds. The need to connect with people on a deeper level has always been something she strives for and finds fulfilling. Whether it be through massage, writing, interpreting or just chatting with a good friend, she finds bits of enlightenment in those connections. If not working or writing, you can find her standing outside in the dark night gazing up at the millions of stars or dancing in the kitchen with her children. Check out her writing here on The Tattooed Buddha and her column:The Yoga Slut. You can also see her writing on Elephant Journal, Yoga International and Rebelle Society. You can connect with her on Twitter and Facebook.
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