Inside: Parenting is hard on the ego and challenges us to confront our own wounding. What helps, regardless of their age, is to become a student of your children. This post contains referral links.
Our children arrive a unique bundle of personality and passion, hardwired for strength and struggle. Parenting is hard on the ego, it challenges us to growth and asks us to confront our own wounding.
No two kids are alike and there’s no rule book to follow so we’re all making it up as we go! Even the kids who seem most like us need to find their own path and their own voice. They are not meant to be replicas of us; they have their own work to do in this world and family is their primary training ground.
Sharing life together with these people can fill us with an intensity of love and joy we could never have imagined before they arrived. But let’s be honest: It can also expose us to a level of fear, pain, and discomfort that we have never before experienced and which leaves us gasping for air and wondering if we’re doing it all wrong. Parenting is hard and humbling work.
become a student of your children (and stay Whole and Happy in the process)
It can help to remember that the parenting journey is not primarily about our comfort. It’s about learning to love, about becoming a student of our children, and doing our own growing up along the way. Life runs smoother if we practice self-compassion faithfully because there’s no way to be a “perfect parent.” Fortunately, our kids don’t need perfection from us; they need us to be honest and to keep showing up imperfectly and on purpose.
1. Choose Curiosity over judgment
Our children tell us who they are from a young age if we pay attention. Gathering knowledge and doing our best to honor each child’s wiring can go a long way to helping everyone feel respected, healthy and happy. Curiosity helps create a felt sense of safety for us and the people we share life with so, as much as possible, it’s helpful to choose curiosity over judgment.
We can listen to our children’s dreams, support them in their interests, create a rich environment that encourages discussion, creativity, and curiosity, and remember that as adults we’re each a messy tangle of strength and struggle just like our kids. Not everything is urgent and often the things that stress us out or anger us today are resolved by tomorrow (or six months from now).
Practice: The Love Languages, the Four Tendencies model, the Enneagram or Myers Briggs are all useful tools we can use to become students of our children.
2. Ask for and receive support
I’ve learned along the way the importance of allowing others to support us – it takes a village to raise a mom, after all. This is not a judgment on our abilities as parents but a strength when we can remember that we don’t have to do it all alone. What are your beliefs around asking for or receiving help?
Outside observers can sometimes see what we don’t see – and the help we most need might come in the form of a speech pathologist, a teacher, a grandparent who babysits while we sleep, a medical professional or therapist, or a teary coffee date with a compassionate friend. And if all else fails, we can give the kids a snack and put them to bed, climb into our jammies, and curl up with a good book (this works whether they’re three or seventeen).
Practice: Pull out your journal and map out your support system. Who is in your corner? Who is a safe place for you? Does your child feel seen and heard and do they need extra support? Identify 1-3 ways that you will practice asking for and receiving help this week.
3. Focus on Connection
When we capture our children’s hearts from a young age, even as teens they’ll know we are a safe-place. We need time to connect and have fun together; the rewards are great. We shouldn’t pour out until we run dry but I do believe we need to enter into their world (even when it feels hard) instead of expecting them to just adapt to ours.
Our kids need to know that we like who they are and that they matter. It was hard but essential in my parenting to learn to hold space for an upset child yet not allow them to push my buttons or dictate my behavior. And one of the healthiest shifts I made as a mom was to get clear on how I wanted these people I love most to feel in our home – and then to very purposefully align my behavior and lifestyle decisions with this goal or vision.
Practice: As we learn more about our own nervous system patterns, what activates us, what helps us feel safe, at home, and joyful in our body and our life, we’re better able to hold space for our child and practice embodied conflict. Learn more in this free workshop.
4. Make Peace With Messy
As physically tired as we may feel during some stretches of parenthood, it is often the emotional challenges that knock us off our feet. Developing a healthy stress mindset, boosting our emotional intelligence, and learning to be the boss of our own thoughts instead of letting them run the show, will serve us like superpowers. Life isn’t supposed to be all neat and tidy so we can release that expectation. We will be challenged and stretched, there’s a lot we don’t yet know, and this is as it should be.
We can let go of perfectionism and comparison with some imaginary parent ideal and choose to enjoy the messy process. To be present for all of it and not wish it away. This is real life, after all. And, on a more literal note, making peace with some physical mess will serve us well too.
Practice: A practice of seasonal living helps us make peace with paradox and embrace the ebb and flow of life. Learning the power of “both/and” frees up space for far more joy in our home and family. It also helps us model resilience to our children for when they come face to face with the messiness of life.
5. Encourage them to use their voice and also model healthy boundaries
We are often learning to do the work of growing up ourselves as we learn to parent. This means that we’re all still figuring out life as we go. It’s important to give our kids permission to use their voice, to disagree respectfully, to teach us (I’m a far wiser, kinder, better human thanks to my kids), to explore the edges of their own values and beliefs in the safety of family. They won’t always do this gracefully. Neither will we.
We are the primary role models for our kids and this means demonstrating what it looks like to say sorry and forgive, to do hard things and rise above. It means modeling self-care and offering ourselves the very same kindness we wish for our children. And it can mean learning how to effectively hold space for our children without losing ourselves in the process.
Practice: Healthy, flexible boundaries are important to every relationship and modeling brave boundary building to our kids will help them learn to use their voice and avoid masking or suppressing their true selves for “belonging.” Sometimes we find a boundary by bumping up against it.
Our kids are amazing gifts; interesting humans ‘hand-picked’ to help us grow. They delight us and change us in ways that we would never have imagined or chosen for ourselves.
Becoming a student of our children helps infuse our home and family with humor and compassion so that we all enjoy the journey of growing up and doing life together (while remaining whole and happy in the process). And who knows, if we’re lucky, our children might just become our best friends one day.
Originally published as a guest post January 17, 2018 at The Life on Purpose Movement and updated here June 2022.
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