Let me start by saying there is no such thing as perfect parenting. Period. Full Stop. Instead, I would say that the only type of parenting is imperfect parenting. I think that we can all agree that we do that quite well. This is not due to a lack of trying. As parents, we are very busy trying to do the right thing for our children. We buy parenting books, full of expert advice, to teach us how to parent better. I have stacks and stacks of these books lining my bookshelves at home; each offering me loads of advice on how to raise my children. I have attempted to read many of them, but I must admit that I have barely scratched the surface. I usually get through the first few chapters when I am interrupted by my life -- my children asking me for help with a problem, dinner to cook, a carpool to drive, an argument I need to help settle, or the most challenging of all, my very heavy eyelids refusing to remain open after a busy day. In my long search for answers, I have come across some deeply meaningful ideas that translate into what I consider the keys to parenting. Three qualities of awareness that help me to be less bound to the pages of my parenting books (that I never seem to finish), and free to raise my children from a place of authenticity. These help me to understand my own values, to do what feels right and to connect to my children in a deep and meaningful way. They are:
(1) Presence. I try very hard to take time to be fully present with my children. I am far from perfect at this, but I am trying. For example, I have caught myself having breakfast with my precious 9 year-old, unable to recount what I imagine was probably a beautiful story she just told, because I was distracted or too busy in my own head to listen to her. I have to remind myself to turn off my phone, power down my laptop, clear my thoughts, judgments and analysis, and simply be there, like a sponge, for my child. It is important to remember that this is not a matter of quantity of time; it is a matter of quality of time. It is about picking your moments and not being afraid to say, “I can’t listen right now, let me finish what I am doing and then I am all yours.” And then doing it. To have a few minutes a day of true listening, paying full attention, is such a gift to you and to your child. No special toys need to be purchased; no elaborate trips need to be taken, just being fully present with your child allows your child to feel felt and to be heard, and gives you the opportunity to connect in a deep and meaningful way.
(2) Understanding. It may seem easy to be present, but to be present with an open mind and an open heart is a much greater challenge. It is acting more like a sponge than a bumper, absorbing and taking in what your child is doing, saying, feeling and thinking, rather than diverting or invalidating their thoughts and feelings. For example, when a child says, “You never listen to me.” It is refraining from saying, “Yes I do. I always listen to you.” And, instead, understanding that your child doesn’t feel listened to. It means seeing things from your child’s point of view, putting yourself in your child’s shoes. In doing this, you not only validate their feelings and experiences, but you can also better understand what your child needs from you and how you can best serve your child.
(3) Acceptance. Our willingness to recognize and accept our children’s thoughts and feelings enables us to see our children for who they really are, and not who we want them to be. It also allows us as parents to see ourselves the way we really are and not the way we wish to be. This acceptance fosters self-confidence, safety and comfort in children and in parents. It releases us from the cycle of disappointment after failing to meet unrealistic expectations, and allows us the freedom to embrace what is, who we are and who our children are, and all the possibilities that come from that very real place.
The challenges of parenting are constantly changing. We have to be able to be present for the laughter and joy, and face the fear and uncertainty as they come. The best we can do is parent from a place of love and not fear, and acknowledge that we are doing the best that we can.