By Adrien Lecomte
I was born in Belgium, and I am 30 years old. I live with my Vietnamese wife Tan and our daughter Mailys in West Hamlet, a small house two kilometers from Upper Hamlet in Plum Village. We have been living in West Hamlet for almost two years with long-term French practitioners while working and volunteering for the Sangha. Mailys is now two years and a half. She spends her time in preschool in Sainte-Foy-la-Grande three days a week, two days a week with me in Upper Hamlet, and the rest of the time with my wife and me. I work with the monastics brothers at the bookshop in Upper Hamlet.
Parenting is a challenge for me because it touches my roots and all the beliefs I have in life. Being fully present for Mailys is challenging because I have the energy of doing many things like working and cooking.
If I pay attention to how she expresses herself, I can see she wants us to slow down and be only with her. It is truly a mindfulness bell that teaches me to stop and spend time with her. It’s not always easy because when I am busy or working, I just want to get the job done. But I cannot this because she will cry for hours. The way she cries or screams leads me to feel so much anger that it makes me feels like I don’t have space for her.
It’s also the practice of accepting things as they are, and that I’m not the perfect father. However, I do my best every day. It’s nourishing to see Mailys growing up in a positive environment with kind people. Everywhere she looks, lovely people want to spend time with her, teach her, and play with her. For me, parenting is being as mindful as possible with everything that happens when we are with her. What is interesting is what shows up in me, and I discover new fears. There is a huge love that opened up within me—an attachment that is impossible to describe in words.
At the same time, I have a fear to lose her, that she will die and that she will not be present anymore. I can really feel these two feelings present in me. This is one aspect of being a parent and being in contact with myself. I can see how my parents educated me and what I’m doing now. I also observe if I’m doing the same things my parents did to me. Sometimes I see my father in me when I talk to her and I see the words he used to say to me and I think, “Wow, is it me or my father talking?”
I am also connecting to my inner child when he was two years old and all the fear and joys he had. Raising a child is also a challenge for us as a couple and as a family. We were two people, and now we have to learn to be three people in a family and find our balance. No one told us that parenting was going to be tiring, and we would learn many things.
One of the most difficult things to learn is to accept that we are not what we used to be, that we need to adapt ourselves, and that we need to change as individuals, as a couple and as a family.
I know that Tan will never be the lady I loved before Mailys arrived. This is to accept things as they are. I discover my wife through Mailys, and I also discover her through her mother. It’s interesting to see how she reacts. As a family with two cultural backgrounds, we are so different. We don’t have the same vision on how to educate our kids. However, we want to find the roots of problems and practice together to live harmoniously because we want Mailys to live in a family.
When we have a conflict, Mailys is the reason why we reconcile and why we look deeply into ourselves to see what’s going on. She is the source of our wish to transform suffering because we want to live together. I can see why sometimes it can be easy to say, “This is too tiring. I don’t want to be with you anymore.”
I can understand why families break up because of kids’ issues, and I can understand couples that cannot overcome this aspect of being. I can imagine a father becoming crazy when his daughter screams. If we are not ready to be in contact with our feelings, it can be harmful to us.
I can imagine that sometimes a father will hit the kids. Even if he loves them so much, it creates something inside of him he cannot overcome. Especially if he doesn’t have the practice and cannot recognize that this is happening now, and cannot stop and go for a walk. I fully understand the people who don’t know the practice when they work 8 hours a day, come home to cook, and need time for themselves.
When we don’t have space inside of us, things are difficult. I think this is what the practice teaches me: that I want to learn to take care of me and to have space inside me to welcome the family as they are. It’s a wonderful opportunity to practice, love and suffer. We cannot give up. We will always have to work to bring money home. We will always have to wake up in the morning to take care of ourselves. It’s very interesting when we have to take care of someone. When we are alone, we just have to take care of ourselves.
When we first arrived in Plum Village, the abbott of Upper Hamlet shared with us that we have to be fully present for our kids. I think it’s the most difficult thing to do: to be there for our kids and listen to them.
Interviewed by Annica