I’m not sure if motherhood comes naturally to anyone, but it definitely didn’t to me. It took me several years to feel like I knew what I was doing. Along the way, I’ve turned to my family, friends, books and blogs for answers to so many of the questions I’ve had. Turning inwards and listening to my instincts has also been part of the learning process – a more complicated one for sure and a topic I would like to write about another day.
I don’t believe you need to read tons of literature, or any really, on child rearing to be a good mother, father, aunt, uncle or grandparent, but personally, books have helped anchor me during difficult times with my kids. They have also been a source of knowledge and wisdom when I’m feeling curious about my children’s minds and I feel lucky that in this generation we are able to access good quality information on parenting if we choose to.
I wanted to share some of the most important lessons I’ve learnt thus far. This will probably be a series of posts because I could write essays on each one.
I’ve seen how important it is to empathize with my kids. There is a tendency when a child is upset or angry to downplay what they’re feeling or to straight out deny it. An example is if my daughter is crying because she doesn’t want to go to sleep. I could say and sometimes do say something along the lines of, “It’s not a big deal, there’s no need to cry” which essentially denies the fact that she’s upset. Instead I try and say something along the lines of, “I know it’s hard to go to bed when you want to stay up with me and your dad, but it’s time for bed.” Of course, if she is crying every single night, I would have to look closer at the situation and figure out the root of the issue – is she over tired and needs an earlier bedtime? Am I not giving her enough one on one time before bed? and so on.
I think some people have concerns with this type of parenting because they’re afraid they’ll raise kids who are over emotional or not tough enough. Of course, I don’t have the long range experience to say what the outcome will be. However, if my son is crying because I told him he can’t take his friend’s dinosaur home and I say, “Stop crying, it’s not your toy” versus, “I know it’s hard when you really like a toy, but it’s not your toy and you can’t take it” I haven’t found that the former statement achieves a better outcome. The latter feels more peaceful for me and aligned with the situation. There is also a developmental piece here. If my daughter was crying at the age of five about not being able to take toys from a friend’s house I would need to probably pre-empt visits to people’s homes with a conversation about it and just take a second look at the situation as a whole to understand what was going on. But a two-year-old isn’t fully able to grasp why he can’t take things home, so it doesn’t need to be a source of embarrassment or anger from my side.
The other piece here is understanding that reflecting feeling doesn’t mean being overly indulgent. Just because I can empathize with why they’re crying or angry doesn’t mean they get to eat dessert before their meal, walk outside in -10 without a scarf, hit me, throw toys, yell at the top of their lungs, stay up past their bedtime on a school night, or buy gum in the grocery checkout aisle. Empathizing doesn’t mean I’m a push over. This took me a while to really understand and act upon, but it is the lynch pin. Just because I understand how my child feels doesn’t mean they can do whatever they want. Over time I’ve seen that my daughter understands what is acceptable and unacceptable and there are definitely less tears and yelling in general – thankfully! Sometimes we tell kids not to cry or get angry because we’re afraid that if we don’t come down hard on them now they’re always going to be like this. I definitely struggled with this fear and still do worry with my son, but I just tell myself, that if I’m parenting them thoughtfully and consciously, creating consistent boundaries and generally doing the best I can, hopefully it will all be okay. The more I continue on this path of motherhood, the more I crave an inner peace and alignment with my outward behaviour as a parent. It is so, so hard, but definitely something I strive for when I’m my best self.
I feel a little nervous writing all this out, because I don’t want anyone to think that I am judging how they parent, particularly my close friends (who may or may not read this). I also don’t have the answers. I just want to share little things that have worked for me and my family. I have learned and continue to learn so much from others that I would like to pay it forward and share some of the wisdom and strategies that are working for us. People vary in so many ways that there cannot be a one shot way of doing anything when it comes to raising children and I would never assume or claim that there is. I’m just really interested as both a mother and an educator on how to raise well-adjusted, kind, respectful, emotionally aware and curious-minded kids. How kids can be supported to be their best selves is fascinating to me.
Thanks for reading.