Practically Perfect Parent Emergency Button: magic for the most challenging moments of parenting
Parenting is hard. It’s obvious to the point of cliche, but it bears repeating. Parenting is really hard, and no matter how much we love our kids, how many parenting books we’ve read, or how hard we try, how many offerings we make to the Great Mother, inevitably they’ll come a time when our kids will end up jumping up and down on our last nerve.
Last night, my toddler continued a week-long streak of throwing an epic tantrum when it was time to put her into bed. She screamed, she kicked her covers, she threw her polar bear. She tried guilt, “Mommy, Mommy, Mommy!” She tried guile, “I have a poopy diaper!” (No, you don’t.) She tried changing targets, “Daddy, Daddy, Daddy!” As this was the sixth night we’d been treated to this particular performance and I was under several other kinds of strain… yeah. I was *this* close to losing my temper.
Fortunately, as a Pagan parent, I had one more tool in my bag of tricks. I could use magic. Years ago, as a teenage camp counselor, I started using magic to help myself through the sticker parts of dealing with children. Now as a parent I’ve refined my technique to what I call my Practically Perfect Parenting Emergency Button.
What Is Magic Anyway?
First, a little note about magic. Dion Fortune is credited with saying that “Magic is the art of changing consciousness according to Will.” According to this definition, you can approach the practice of magic with the understanding that it is an art form that produces results through supernatural means or that the results are possible because we as individuals are capable of more than we think possible as long as we can put ourselves in the exact right frame of mind to achieve it. Personally, there are days when I swing toward favoring either of these interpretations or both. The beauty of my Practically Perfect Parent Emergency Button is that it works either way because the target of the magic is myself.
Magic During Parenting Emergencies
Magic can seem like an unlikely parenting tool, particularly in the thick of things, when the fur is about to fly. When many of us practice magic we do so in a ritual context or sacred space. There are candles, cords, altars, carefully picked correspondences, and precisely chosen words. None of those are compatible with your standard moment of parenting stress. Candles are fire hazards, cords are strangulation hazards, my altar all but disappeared as soon as my kid got mobile enough to reach it, and the last thing I’m doing with my kid screaming in the next room is to thumb through a book to find the exact right herb for “how not to defenestrate your kid.”
Many texts on magic will allow that you don’t need all the “props” but then state that what is required is the appropriate state of mind. They advise meditation, grounding, centering, casting a circle in the minds-eye and coming to the working with the right focus. Let’s be realistic — the parent dodging the block being hurled at her head does not have time to meditate.
Instead, what we need is the parental equivalent of an emergency kit, something we can prepare ahead of time and access on a moment’s notice. Enter the Practically Perfect Parent Emergency Button.
What is the Practically Perfect Parent?
Think about the “perfect parent” for your child in their most trying moment. What would that person be like? Is he endlessly fascinated by explanations of the plot of the latest Fortnite exploit? Can she blighty ignore pleas for treats and redirect into a fun letter-finding game while simultaneously getting the grocery shopping done? Do they know just the right thing to do to calm a screaming toddler? Are they the super parent in the Children’s Museum bathroom who can handle the competing needs of two young children and make it look easy?
Most importantly, is that perfect parent not worn out from hours on end of taking care of kids? Are they not exhausted from a full day of work? Are they fully rested and alert? Are they able to ignore the stares of onlookers? Are they not juggling a hundred other concerns that are keeping them from focusing every ounce of their attention on their needy child?
Newsflash: none of us can be that superparent all the time. It’s impossible. We live in the real world where we have other demands on our time and energy. If we brought our A-game to every moment of our children’s lives we wouldn’t have the resources needed to do all the other things that enable them to have a happy, healthy world, such as cooking, cleaning, bringing home a paycheck, or tending to our own needs. Mary Poppins could only be “practically perfect in every way” because she flew into the family, did her work, and flew out. She wouldn’t sing so sprightly if she had to tend her kids for years on end.
Magical Turbo Boost
It’s unrealistic to try to be perfect all the time, but magic can provide a kind of “turbo boost” to help us become the Mary Poppins version of ourselves for long enough to get through a temporary child rearing crisis.
Step One: Crafting your Practically Perfect Parent Persona
The first step, which you can do right now, or any other time when you’re NOT putting all your energy into dealing with kids, is to summon up what it should feel like to be that Practically Perfect Parent. You don’t need to invoke Mary Poppins or some other alien persona. What you’re trying to create is the version of your own self who is ideally suited to deal with a child right at that exact moment. Coaches tell athletes to visualize running through their routines so the actual performance becomes second nature, and we can use the same visualization techniques to create our own Practically Perfect Parent persona which we can slip on at need.
Create the sensations, emotions, and intentions of your Practically Perfect Parent. For me, I find myself physically sitting up a little straighter, with my shoulders lowered, my head tilted slightly to one side, and a pleasant smile on my lips. All of these things communicate engagement and non-threatening attention. Emotionally I summon up love; the kind of greeting-card, baby-soap-commercial version of maternal adoration that society pretends parents are supposed to feel all the time. (Like most things being advertised, it’s BS, but right now for this ephemeral moment you’re going to invoke it.) Mentally I imagine myself focusing all of my attention on the child at-hand and focusing all of my empathy to understand that child and what they really need, right in that moment.
Your goal here is to be the version of yourself that your child needs at that moment. If you’re dealing with a sullen teenager you don’t need to be super sweet and coddling, that might just annoy them, but what you might need would be truly excellent listening skills and the empathy to realize what might not be said, whereas a younger child might need more overt love and inclusion. Regardless of the circumstance, patience and not taking it personally are going to be called for.
Practice sitting with these feelings for a minute or two until it doesn’t feel awkward. If possible repeat this exercise from time to time when you’re not around your kids. The better you get at creating this template of the Practically Perfect Parent, the easier it will be to call upon it in the moment.
Step Two: Almost-Instant Centering
You created your Practically Perfect Template in a calm, low-stress situation, but you’re going to need it in high-stress moments. To make the transition effective, you need to find a way to create a moment of calm, just a brief eye in the center of the tornado, so you can put your persona on. In magical terms, you’re going to need to ground and center yourself. There are numerous resources on how to do so, but if you’re looking for fast one of the best I’ve found was taught at one of Circle Sanctuary’s Sacred Fire Circles by Dan Stewart of Spirit Knoll. It uses the chakras, but if you don’t work with that you try it without focusing on those.
My quick-and-dirty version is to take a deep breathe in and imagine the energy of the ground coming up, through your root chakra and rising all the way up through the rest of your system into the sky. Exhale and imagine the energy of the sky/universe pouring down through your crown chakra and descending through your system to the earth. You can continue this through as many breath cycles as you need, but eventually, you will find a point of equilibrium where you feel the energy of the land and sky flowing through you, with you as a stable point in between where they mingle and shine.
You can substitute whatever grounding and centering technique work for you, but the important part is that it has to be fast. You don’t have time to grab a hematite or sit on a meditation cushion; this has to take five seconds or less. After practicing my technique often enough I find I can get to something at least approximating that point of stable equilibrium with one deep-but-quick inhale and exhale. That becomes the one calm moment that I need to set up my Practically Perfect Parent Emergency Button.
Step Three: Pushing the Button
To combine your Practically Perfect Parent persona with your moment of calm and give it the charge it needs to succeed you need to create a statement of intent.
Your statement can be directed to a particular deity, preferably one you’ve already cultivated a relationship with and who has some affinity for children (you might be really tight with Artemis, but a goddess who never wanted to be a mother might not be the best to call on in all parenting situations). If you are going to send the plea to a deity and you usually use more elaborate language when working with them, you might consider doing a ritual ahead of time where you ask for their aid when you call to them under these circumstances, sort of like setting up a code word. That way you won’t be concerned about offending.
Or, if your magic doesn’t usually work with a deity, you can simply send your intention out into the universe.
The intention needs to be short and simple, just like pushing a button! I use something like “Let me be the parent that my child needs, right now.” Now isn’t the time for a fancy invocation. Something direct and simple works best, both for the one to whom you’re directing your plea and for your own brain.
You absolutely don’t have to state your intent aloud, that could be confusing to your child or others around you. But do “say it in your head” as though you were about to speak. Once you say it, put on your Practically-Perfect Parent persona and visualize it imbued with the blessing of the forces you’ve called on it to work. Imagine being the parent that your child needs, right at this moment.
Step Four: Putting It All Together
So you’ve practiced your Practically Perfect Parent persona, you have your chosen method for super-quick centering, and you have decided on how you’re going to do your statement of intent. Now your darling child is on the floor of the restaurant having a red-faced tantrum because they ordered a PB&J and now that the food has come what they really want is mac and cheese. Time to hit the emergency button!
First, make sure that there isn’t anything actually dangerous that could happen in the next few seconds. Nobody is holding anything sharp, no little heads are thrashing around near hard corners, and there isn’t a busy street that a small person could dash into. If there is an immediate danger, deal with that however you must. Once immediate, physical safety is taken care of, now you can turn on your magic!
Ground and Center – take your breaths or do your fast technique to find your center and create your moment of calm.
State Your Intention – “Goddess, help me to be the best parent this for this child right now,” or any variation thereof that works for you
Put On Your Practically Perfect Parent persona – visualize yourself becoming that practically perfect parent, including changing your posture, releasing tension in your body, radiating love, and seeing your child with empathy and understanding
With practice, I’ve found that I can do all of these steps in the course of about 5 breaths. Too much longer and I wouldn’t use it because not responding to the situation would feel wrong. Too much shorter and I wouldn’t give myself the pause I need to get out of the previous headspace that wasn’t serving me or my child. As with anything else, you’ll get better and faster with practice.
Emergency Buttons Are For Emergencies
It might go without saying, but it’s not possible to keep up a persona of perfection for long. There is an element of “fake it till you make it” here, but you can’t expect magic to solve persistent problems in your parenting. If you find most interactions your children, or all interactions around a given situation (for example, bedtime) to descend into push-the-button territory, then you need to seek more lasting changes.
Just like how you wouldn’t keep slapping a band-aid on a wound that keeps bleeding, seek out professional advice if a crisis is persistent. Your child’s pediatrician is a great source, but if they’re in school the staff there may know of resources. Other professionals who work with children, like librarians or directors of education, might also know of good resources in your community. And if you ever think that you could endanger yourself or your child call the National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-422-4453.
I developed my “emergency button” for dealing with kids, but I’ve found similar techniques to be applicable to everything from animals to difficult bosses to ministerial situations.
If magic is changing consciousness at will, with a little prep ahead of time you can allow yourself to change your consciousness in the moment.
May your parenting emergencies be few and quickly resolved!