In your heart, you know you want to do it differently. Conventional parenting methods don’t feel right for you – and you know they do more harm than good. Maybe you already practiced attachment parenting, you’ve read a lot about focusing on the relationship with your child rather than their behaviour and know that this is the kind of parent you want to be.
Some days seem so easy: You’re calm and collected. You’re able to sit down in peace for a meal altogether, then the kids are playing and you pause for a moment to watch them. You feel so lucky and grateful to have these amazing little people in your life. Even when the peace is momentarily disturbed by a squabble or fight, you stay calm, present, practice your breathing, help them resolve their conflict constructively by verbalising and mirroring. You recognise their needs and respond positively.
You know that this is how you want everyday to be, yet days like this still feel like the exception. You understand all about behaviour as communication, emotional needs, the importance of self-care and doing the inner work – and there are days when family life feels anything but peaceful and you certainly wouldn’t describe yourself as gentle. These days can be discouraging and emotionally overwhelming and you feel guilty for not getting it right, again.
The reality is that being a peaceful parent is not a state you can seek to achieve but a journey, a path you take another step along everyday in life with your kids.
“Peace is a daily, a weekly, a monthly process, gradually changing opinions, slowly eroding old barriers, quietly building new structures.” —John F. Kennedy
Even when you’re trying to create a peaceful family home, there will be still be conflicts, tantrums, hitting, kicking, angry words, slammed doors, crying, tears and frustration. You’ll still sometimes find yourself reacting in ways you don’t want to. As you try to juggle everyone’s seemingly conflicting needs, you’ll use your parental power, sometimes unconsciously and sometimes well aware that you’re doing so. These days will feel hard, perhaps even harder because you didn’t think that these things would still be par for the course when you’re trying to do it differently.
Family life is messy and none of us are perfect parents. It isn’t human nature to be perfect and although we may sometimes wish we were a superparent, our kids just need us to be human so they can feel safe and learn what it means to be human too.
Every conflict and challenge is a learning opportunity:
People are different and everyone is doing the best they can in any given situation.
Conflicts are a normal part of healthy relationships and they can be resolved peacefully, if not always perfectly the first time around.
Big people and little people alike have emotions and needs, and they all matter.
There are constructive ways to handle emotions and to reconnect after a fight.
Learning to trust the process means showing up consistently in the best way you can on any given day.
Every day is a new opportunity to connect and do it differently.
Kids don’t think in terms of whether or not we’re good parents. They want nothing more than to feel connected to us. Even when they say or act otherwise, their words and actions are an expression of their own inner turmoil that we need to take seriously and not personally. All behaviour is meaningful.
Our most important – and often hardest – job as parents is to help our kids get to know, understand and learn to handle their feelings and emotional needs.
It’s our job to be present and create a holding space for our child’s emotions as they learn and grow, whilst at the same time learning to understand what this process does to us, how it makes us feel, what we need and, when it doesn’t come easy, to get support.
This is when self-care is less about lighting a nice candle and drinking a glass of wine (though I do enjoy these things too) and more about self-awareness and getting the emotional support we need to continue to be able to show up for our kids.
Developing self-awareness is key. The hard days serve as a reminder that we’re still on a journey.
What happened that made today a hard day for you?
How did it make you feel?
What do you need and what can you do to get those needs met?
Guilt and shame, whilst they make us double-back and reflect on what just happened, are otherwise unhelpful. They make our efforts feel futile, overwhelming, and stand in the way of reconnecting with our kids.
Gratitude, appreciation and self-forgiveness can help. As does focusing on the present moment.
Be kind to yourself. You are enough.
The more you focus on the here and now and on the small things you can do differently each day, you’ll find that breathing, staying calm and recognising emotional needs gradually become your new norm, the easier it will become and the more you’ll start to feel like the parent you want to be.
Karen Netzel – Fresh perspectives for parents and families
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