So you go back into on-the-job training, and by the time you've mastered communication with a tantrum-throwing toddler and become addicted to the warm, wet smell of your little one after a bath, he squirms away and goes to kindergarten, and suddenly, you have a new best friend—a funny, wise, and adorable companion. But now you have to learn to deal with play dates and social study reports and parent/teacher conferences. And then sports and school plays, and friends and hurt feelings, and that shifting boundary between granting them freedom and giving them direction. Soon, they're teenagers and there's no real training for that, so you take it one day at a time, difficult decision by difficult decision, and finally, if things go the way they ought to, the kids leave home, they leave you, and they push off into the future.

Parenting in all of its stages is a path with mythic twists and turns, a spiritual practice of the highest order. If your spiritual goal is to embrace life, moment by moment, in both its rapture and its pain, then parenting can get you there every day. Holy texts throughout the ages tell us that the truth is to be found between the seeming opposites in life—between your own will and a greater will; between limits and liberty; between the call to care for others and the need to care for yourself. In the parent/child relationship these concepts become supremely real. And you get excellent feedback every day from the most demanding master—your own kid—whose spiritual specialty is in teaching you how to keep on loving even when you are tired, scared, confused, or pissed off. Isn't that what every seeker is after?

At each stage of your child's growth, you are given ample opportunities to use parenthood as a mirror. You get to see exactly where you fall short in the most graphic ways. Is your failing self-absorption? Do you resist putting the needs of others first? Or do you err in the other direction—are you a martyr, a guilt-tripper, a co-dependant smotherer? Do you fear change? Are you impatient? Jealous? Comparative? Whatever it is that wants to be transformed in your psyche, will reveal itself to you as you parent. If you accept the challenge, parenting becomes a perpetual process of change and transformation, and one of the best chances we are given to be broken open by love.

Adapted from Broken Open: How Difficult Times Can Help Us Grow, by Elizabeth Lesser, Villard 

Elizabeth Lesser is the co-founder and senior adviser of Omega Institute, the largest adult education center in the United States focusing on health, wellness, spirituality and creativity. Find out more about Omega's workshops and retreats with some of the leading spiritual teachers of our times.