Parenting is an evolving process. With its twists and turns and ups and downs, it is a skill that takes practice and much patience. Often, if we tune in, we’ll come to discover that our children can be our best teachers.
As a parenting coach and educator, I often have parents say to me, “If only I could be the perfect parent.” The reality is that there is no such thing as a perfect parent (or child!). We all have our “not so great” days and moments we let the “little things” get the better of us. There are times we may feel like we should “know better.” For example, we may feel upset when we yell at our children out of our own frustrations. We may ask ourselves “Why did I speak to them that way? The answer is that we are human and are trying to do our very best.
When we become aware of our own triggers and the role we play in our children’s behaviors and in our interactions, we, in effect, become a more conscious parent. Thus, improving every day becomes much easier and natural.
Daunting as this may sound, it is the optimal option. For the relationship we have with our children is the most important relationship of all. The relationship we have with our children will guide the relationships they have with virtually every other human being in their lives. We are their role models. We are whom they look to for emotional regulation, self-control, self-discipline, kindness, compassion…the list goes on and on. We are their role models, imperfections and all.
It is important to realize that often the beauty is in the imperfections. Mistakes, as we say, are crucial for learning and growth. As Arianna Huffington once said, “The fastest way to break the cycle of perfectionism and become a fearless mother is to give up the idea of doing it perfectly – indeed to embrace uncertainty and imperfection.”
So what does this look like in daily life? How can we become more conscious parents?
For starters, it means taking responsibility for our behaviors and reactions to our children. For example, when I succumb to yelling, I apologize. I tell my children, “I’m sorry for yelling. I made a mistake and I wish I would’ve handled this differently. I learn from my mistakes and next time I’m upset, I’m going to take a deep breath instead.” As a result, my children often apologize for their behaviors. After a complete meltdown, my four year old has been known to say, “Mommy, I am sorry for my behavior.” And don’t think she doesn’t call me out when I haven’t reacted so well…”Mommy,” she’ll say, “are you sorry for your behavior?” Silly as it sounds, I feel I’m teaching my children the valuable life skill of making mistakes, taking responsibility for them and ultimately, healthy conflict resolution.
Being a more conscious parent and embracing our imperfections also means being aware of our own emotional histories and what we bring to the interaction. It involves being aware of our own agendas and how we may be misguidedly putting them onto our child(ren).
As an example, morning time is my most stressful time. I am a person who likes to be on time. My children, on the other hand, do not share this value with me. Instead, as children do, they dawdle; they often sulk and whine when I ask them to do something like put on their shoes. Because of my desire for “me time,” I naturally begin to feel the impatience in me rising. What I continue to learn, however, is that there is a pause in those moments – a moment of time where I have a choice. I can choose to let the impatience win and impose my agenda onto my children or I can choose to remind myself that my kids have their own agendas and that we can work together to find a solution to this “problem” (mainly mine) that we are having.
The moment is so short and the choice is not an easy one. Yet when I choose the relationship, we all win. We maintain our connection and our closeness. Will I still set a limit? Absolutely. But I will set the limit with empathy and understanding of their agenda as well, thus creating an opportunity for mutual respect.
Our children are like mirrors into our souls. They are keen observers of our emotional worlds and know just how to push our buttons. Our buttons, however, are not theirs, but ours. By becoming aware of them, owning them, staring them in the face, we free ourselves from repeating old patterns from childhood. By making different choices in how we parent (i.e. out of mutual respect and adoration vs. out of fear and a desire for our children to obey), we shift the pendulum toward a deeper connection within ourselves, our family unit and, ideally, generations to come.
Debbie Zeichner, LCSW, is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Certified Positive Discipline Parenting Educator as well as a Certified Redirecting Children’s Behavior (RCB) Parent Educator who has specialized in working with adults, children and families for over 16 years.
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