Parenting: The ultimate on the job training course.
Originally published on Huffington Post
Like many pre-child individuals, I would observe others with children and know that when I became a parent I could do a better job; there would be no runny noses, no back talk and no meltdowns – theirs or mine – in grocery stores. But when it comes to parenting, Nature has some truths in store that can be both humbling and exhilarating. I invite you to take a moment with these five truths. They will not only change the relationship you have with your child but also the relationship you have with yourself.
1. You are not raising children; you are raising adults.
You conceive a child and bring it into the world, but this unique human being does not belong to you. As Kahlil Gibran says of children, “They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.” Your job is to prepare your child for adulthood and a future where they will be independent, confident, creative and productive individuals. It is your job to help them develop the skills that will set them freely onto their own path into the future. Help your children discover what they are good at, what gives them pleasure and how to develop these competencies. Resist the urge to remain the ultimate authority in your child’s life or to think you know what is best for them. This only keeps them juvenile and dependent. Each child must find his or her centered self. Give them roots and then let them spread their wings and fly.
2. Your children are your teachers.
This is no one way street. While you can instruct your child in the ways of being in the world, you will find that your child will teach you the ways of being within. This initially completely dependent little bundle of joy will take you to the heights of delight and the depths of exhaustion. They will tax your patience and bring you your greatest joy. Your weaknesses will be revealed and your strengths fortified. If you understand that you are learning about yourself through your role as a mom or dad you can lean into the challenges of parenting without the need to be perfect. Be willing to continue your own growth as an individual and discover the parts of yourself – positive and negative – that have been hidden until your child’s innocence draws them out. Your relationship with each child is utterly unique. Trust your intuition and trust your instincts.
3. Example isn’t another way we teach [our children]; it is the only way.
Einstein said this and I agree. When we have the perspective of ‘raising children’, we cast ourselves as the all-together authority on correct action, which fosters the “do as I say, not as I do” error, or worse, we think that we can protect our child from life’s challenges. Overprotection sets our growing child into a challenging world with inadequate coping skills. Let’s face it, life continues to challenge us in ways we haven’t known before; it’s how we learn who we are. So let’s be willing to learn on the go and illustrate the skills we develop as we work things through. This way we show our children that life is unpredictable and meeting challenges is a creative, intuitive and enlivening process.
4. You are a parent, not your child’s friend.
The way to instil confidence, competence and self-esteem in your child is to create a safe haven physically and emotionally. Your child requires boundaries that expand with his or her maturing so that they learn how to do for themselves in ways that build a foundation of self-trust. Pay attention to each child, as the individual they are, and allow him or her to gently push their own boundaries when they are ready. Resist the urge to say ‘no’ to everything outside your immediate comfort zone and reserve the ‘no’s for the really important moments. Alternatively, resist the urge to befriend your child in ways that puts pressure on them to understand adult issues before they are able. Let them be children and protect their innocence. Sometimes that means we have to grow up first.
5. Your children are who they are, not who you want them to be.
We all want a second chance and too often look at our newborn as a ‘tabula rasa’ to correct all the mistakes in our own life, or those we feel our parents made. But your child is an individual with a complete blueprint of potential that has nothing to do with you. Your role is to help your child discover who they are and allow those wonderful talents to emerge and strengthen. Our culture is bent on organized extracurricular activities that, in moderation, can build physical and/or mental skills, but as parents raising adults, we must nurture the soul of our child. Resist the urge to keep your child over busy. The best words you can hear is “I’m bored.” Time alone to go within is when your child will hear the whispers of ‘I am’ and begin to discover whom they really are.
No one has to tell you to love your child. It is a love like no other. As you gaze into the eyes of your newborn you are swept, perhaps for the first time, with the blaze of unconditional love. Our challenge as a mother or father is to maintain that unconditional love as our child’s individuality emerges and he or she matures and grows into an independent adult.
‘Unconditional’ means we see our children for who they really are as pure and unique aspects of Creation itself. Conditions to that love arise from our own minds until we can see ourselves as pure aspects of Creation also. Fully engaged in the reciprocal dynamic of parent and child, we may discover our real selves for the first time. We become a better parent by becoming a more confident and fulfilled person and it is our children that help get us there.
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