Growing Yourself as a Parent

mom and girl PAID“Grown-ups never understand anything for themselves, and it is tiresome for children to be always and forever explaining things to them.”   -Antoine de Saint-Exupery, The Little Prince
Imagine a baby shower where the guests bring a special kind of gift for the new parents.
Not baby clothes. Not strollers or cribs. Not even a single book on child-rearing.
The gifts for the new parents? Self-awareness, self-love and self-growth as a person, as well as a parent.
The best parenting requires that we not only work to nurture and care for our children but that we nurture and care for ourselves.
Parenting is one of the–if not the–most challenging jobs on the planet. There is the awesome responsibility of raising and guiding another human being, of course. But it’s the daily interactions between children and parents that can require almost super-human amounts of flexibility, patience and awareness. All the experts and all the books aren’t there when it’s your toddler who won’t nap, your child who grabbed the toy out of his friend’s hand, your depressed teen who is desperately searching for answers, your adult child who can’t hold down a job.
Successful–even joyful–parenting is about listening to ourselves as well as listening to our children. It’s a self-awareness approach that brings the focus back to what we are feeling and needing, so that we don’t unthinkingly rain anger and fear down upon our children. Being aware of ourselves helps us develop a strong “inner authority” or an intuitive sense of knowing what is best for us and our children in any moment. (As well as accepting that sometimes we really don’t know yet!)
“We guide (our children) not because they have basically shabby motives, but because they lack the one strength most of us have: awareness of the world,” write authors Hugh and Gayle Prather in their book, Spiritual Parenting: A Guide to Understanding and Nurturing the Heart in Your Child.
Their book calls parenting a spiritual path that helps us grow as people while we are helping our children grow into adults. Our children challenge us and if we can truly listen, we can grow.
One of the first challenges is to understand that old patterns–often formed in our own childhoods–can often rule our behavior as parents right now. For example, if our own parents tried to fix everything that went wrong, we may try to do the same with our children. But our children may need us just to listen to their fears and not jump in with our own fears and try to “fix” it all.
In the process, we allow our kids to make mistakes, and that means we can, too. And if we can forgive our kids and accept them in all their flawed glory, it can’t be too big a jump to do this for ourselves.
As author Joyce Maynard writes, “It’s not only children who grow. Parents do, too. As much as we watch to see what our children do with their lives, they are watching us to see what we do with ours. I can’t tell my children to reach for the sun. All I can do is reach for it myself.”

 

♥♥♥ LOVE IN ACTION ♥♥♥
Spend time reflecting on your own childhood and how you were raised as a child.  Make two lists: what you want to do the same way as your parents did it…and what you want to do differently.  Pick one of the things you want to do differently, and over the next week, make a conscious effort to pause…and choose your new way.

When one child is “mean” to another: healing both

When your child comes home in tears because someone was “mean” to them at school, the first line of defense is to listen to their outpouring of feelings and allow them to feel them….fully.  This is quite hard to do.  It’s heartbreaking for us as parents to be with our child’s painful feelings.  We just want to fix it for them, smooth it over and make sure that it never happens again.  But if we can just be with our child and let the tears fall (without trying to fix it), this is great medicine in and of itself.  Having someone to listen to them in this way, feeling fully heard and understood, will help your child develop inner strength and resiliency.  This simple, but healing, act of listening will help instill in them that they can weather life’s storms and come out okay.

Once your child feels fully heard and understood, you can help them brainstorm ways that they can “respond” to hurtful words or actions, rather than “react” emotionally or with their own damaging words.  Help your child come up with some key phrases that will help to protect her from the impact of a hurtful comment.  Some phrases may be, “That’s not nice and I’m not going to listen any more” (and she turns or moves away).  Or “It’s not okay to talk to me that way” (and she turns or moves away).  If the phrases and disengagement don’t work, then it’s time to get a teacher or adult involved.

While it’s helpful to teach our children tools so they can “stand up for themselves,” no child should have to go through this alone.  It’s our responsibility as parents, teachers, and adult mentors, to support our children in tough times and to model for them how to deal with others who have hurt us.  Usually, the impulse is to judge the “mean” child for their behavior and punish them for their wrongs.  But I believe this perpetuates the problem.  It adds another layer of blame and shame to what the “mean” child is already feeling, which is causing the behavior in the first place.  

I believe that a hurt-ful child is a hurt-filled child.  When a child’s needs are being met, they are loving and kind and have no need to act out in a hurtful way.  When one child is mean to another, there is something bigger going on below the surface, there are some needs that are not being met.  When we set up supportive systems (like peer mediation or restorative circles) in our families, schools, and other institutions to address this bigger issue of unmet needs, then we will start to see this type of behavior fade.

So instead of punishment for the “mean” girl, I would want her also to know that she is loved and cared about even after the harm she has done. I would want a loving adult in her life to sit with her and listen to what is going on for her to cause her to act out in this way.  And to help her understand what needs of hers she is trying to meet with such behavior and guide her to find better strategies to get those needs met with less cost to others (and to herself).  No one feels good being mean.

Here’s an illustration of how I used this approach with a similar situation in my family.  Recently, my son made an inappropriate attempt at humor by writing some text below another person’s photo and sending it out on Instagram.  Someone showed the Instagram to the person who was in the photo and that person was not amused and sent us (the parents) an email. 

Before I approached my son about it, I thought about my intentions.  I got clear that I wanted my son to learn how his actions affect others (especially how widespread the effect can be in today’s electronic world) and I wanted to give him a chance to restore his honor, to come back to his best self.  Above all, I wanted him to know that he is loved and cared about even when he makes mistakes.  And that he can count on me to support him through the uncomfortable and awkward stage of restitution—as he repairs the harm he has caused another and as he restores his own honor to himself.

I was very satisfied with our conversation.  Because I didn’t approach him with judgment and punishment, he didn’t become defensive.  He knew it was a stupid mistake and he sincerely regretted that his actions had caused embarrassment and hurt.  He sent an email to the person in the photo apologizing for sending the Instagram and for not thinking through how hurtful it might be.  The person in the photo responded with a very sweet email in return.  As far as I know, the hurt was repaired on both sides…and some valuable life lessons were learned to boot.

I’m reminded of a story I read in Alan Cohen’s book, Living from the Heart.  Here’s an excerpt which captures beautifully how, instead of punishing, we can love others back to their best self:

When a woman in a certain African tribe knows she is pregnant, she goes out into the wilderness with a few friends and together they pray and meditate until they hear the song of the child. They recognize that every soul has its own vibration that expresses its unique flavor and purpose. When the women attune to the song, they sing it out loud. Then they return to the tribe and teach it to everyone else. When the child is born, the community gathers and sings the child’s song to him or her.

Later, when the child enters education, the village gathers and chants the child’s song. When the child passes through the initiation to adulthood, the people again come together and sing. At the time of marriage, the person hears his or her song. Finally, when the soul is about to pass from this world, the family and friends gather at the person’s bed, just as they did at their birth, and they sing the person to the next life.

In the African tribe there is one other occasion upon which the villagers sing to the child. If at any time during his or her life, the person commits a crime or aberrant social act, the individual is called to the center of the village and the people in the community form a circle around them. Then they sing their song to them. The tribe recognizes that the correction for antisocial behavior is not punishment; it is love and the remembrance of identity.

When you recognize your own song, you have no desire or need to do anything that would hurt another. A friend is someone who knows your song and sings it to you when you have forgotten it. Those who love you are not fooled by mistakes you have made or dark images you hold about yourself. They remember your beauty when you feel ugly; your wholeness when you are broken; your innocence when you feel guilty; and your purpose when you are confused.

May we all be surrounded by family and friends who know our song and who will sing it to us when we need it the most.