Being Teachable: Ideas & Ideals
I am in no way a Gentle Parenting expert. Frankly, I only recently heard the term and started learning about the concepts. To me Gentle Parenting means treating my children with the same love, compassion, respect and kindness with which I want the world to treat me. And for me, living up to that ideal is no easy feat!
I firmly believe my two daughters are my best teachers, and we’re growing up together, step by step. When I pay attention, I can learn from them how to listen to myself, stay in the moment and enjoy the adventure that is raising them. As an aspiring gentle mom, I want to be the kind of parent who:
- Makes nurturing myself and getting support a priority
- Offers myself and my children choices and boundaries
- Identifies with my children’s successes and challenges
- Finds the joy in parenting
While these ideas don’t come naturally or easily to me, here’s what I’m learning:
My goal as a parent is to celebrate and enjoy my children. Rather than parenting with resentment or martyrdom, as often as possible, I want to give to my family from a place of willingness and joy. Unfortunately, I tend to be reactive. And a perfectionist. A volatile combination – and not exactly conducive to joy and fun! I have noticed that when I take in more mothering from loving friends and more nurturing for myself, I’m less reactive and better able to lovingly connect with myself and my children.
When I focus on myself and consciously look at all the ways I treat myself both lovingly and hurtfully, I recognize that I naturally treat my children in those same ways. In my experience, I can’t neglect my needs or ignore my own emotions without at some point offering the same to my children. For example, when I yell out of frustration or offer shaming messages to my children, chances are good I’m treating myself to those same powerful messages. Yet when I’m accepting and forgiving of myself, I tend to model those traits in my interactions with my kids.
To make those positive interactions a reality, I need a lot of loving self-care; things like regular meals, consistent exercise, bathroom breaks when needed (not put off until I’ve completed five more “urgent” things!), sufficient rest and downtime, some grown-up play and fun, a little fresh air and, possibly most importantly for me, connection with other loving people. If I don’t make these things a priority in my life, there is little chance I’ll interact with my children with love and compassion.
Making Choices/Setting Boundaries
Gentle Parenting to me means choices. When I am able to take a deep breath before I respond to my kids, I find I have more choices in how I interact with them. You’d think breathing would be an easy task, given that I’m presumably doing it regularly. You’d be wrong! When something isn’t going my way or is different from my plan, my typical reaction is to control, not breathe; tighten, not soften. When I’m able to remember to breathe, slow down and be gentle with myself, I tend to enjoy family interactions more. I’m guessing my kids do too!
Gentle Parenting to me is letting go, primarily of my expectations. I struggle daily with letting go – thus re-dos are a big part of my parenting. As I was working on this article, eager to finish it on my timeframe, my daughter Ava (8) asked me to read a Harry Potter book to her, one of our favorite mommy-daughter activities. My first reaction was “no,” I had to get this article done. The question, “Why?” popped in my head. I love to read with my daughters. And I love to write. Writing would give me a sense of accomplishment, a “to do” checked off my list. I knew I’d have some writing time later in the afternoon when our babysitter arrived, yet I still wasn’t convinced.
Anxiety drove my initial “no” response. Then, when I stopped, breathed and asked myself what would bring me more joy in the long-term, I realized I had choices. And here’s the tricky part: there was no “right” choice! Choosing to stop writing and read to my daughter would have been a fine choice; choosing to keep writing and agreeing on a time later in the day to read together would have been a fine choice, too (even if my daughter had feelings about my choice – yikes!). It seems important to me to be conscious that I have many choices and am making choices all the time.
This time, I asked Ava for a redo. When at first she wasn’t interested, I got up off my chair and went to her. We had a delightful time cuddling and reading together. When the babysitter arrived later and I started writing again, I felt happier and more in touch with joy.
While I strive to make my relationships with my daughters my first priority, it’s also important for me to remember that I deserve to set boundaries. I’m not always available at the exact moment when my children (and others!) want my attention. Neither are they. When I accept my limitations and imperfections, our time together feels more authentically loving.
Identifying Vs. Controlling
Being gentle in my parenting means being gentle and loving with myself first, something I have little patience for on my own. I like efficiency and order, the antithesis of humanness (and my children!). When I can appreciate that my girls are providing me with opportunities to grow, to open my heart and live a fuller life, I soften. When I identify with them rather than try to control them, we all grow.
For example, my daughter Ava (8) and I often struggle over her homework during the school year. Whenever I’m focused on her progress and how easily distracted she is, I end up trying to control her by pressuring and nagging. When instead I focus on my own feelings, I realize how alike we are and how hard it can be for me to focus after a long day.
When I explain to Ava that I understand and often feel the same way, we connect. When I make our relationship more important than my expectations about her homework, my daughter tends to blossom. I like to think I do, too.
Finding More Joy
To me gentle parenting is the opposite of control – it suggests forgiveness of myself first for all the ways I don’t live up to my expectations as a mom. It requires humility that I don’t always know what’s best and an open mind to let in new ideas. Gentle parenting means embracing forgiveness – of myself first – and teaching my children by modeling that there’s no shame in making mistakes, there is no shame in owning our humanness, there’s only more joy to be found.
By Mary Balice Nelligan of A Teachable Mom