The greatest lesson I have learned from my children is that I am OK the way I am. It’s the message I raised them with, and one that they now give back to me. Often we feel the need for a script, a philosophy, a book, a guru and fear to go our own way. In fact, it is easier to be more than who we are than simply who we are. Going our own way requires us not only to examine and come to term with our own beliefs, but also to hold steadfast with them. Dance legend Martha Graham says:
There is a vitality, a life-force, an energy, a quickening, that is translated through you into action and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, will never exist through any other medium and be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares to other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You have to keep open and aware directly to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open.
Keeping the channel open in this era of rapid change is no easy task. It is not only in the realm of the Internet that our world is changing. Our culture, our customs and our world views are also changing. More information than ever is available to parents; therefore, more critical thinking than ever is necessary. Grounding your channel in your own personal beliefs and values rather than in some prescription or current fashion keeps you honest.
FOLLOW THE LEAD OF THE CHILD
Being open to change is an essential prerequisite for our time and for our lives as parents. However, at the same time that parenting opens us up to personal transformation, so too does it remind us that some things never change. The basic integrity, perfectibility, and goodness of the child never change. All decisions and actions flow from one’s faith in the innate goodness of the child. Once we observe that the child is basically good, trustworthy, and authentic, we will follow the child’s lead as parents rather than mold the child to our own preconceptions. What kind of support do parents need?
A KIND INNER VOICE
How do we take care of ourselves as we take care of others? Because society expects so much of us as parents—and we expect so much of ourselves—we can easily be overly critical of ourselves. After all, parenting is something we can only learn by experience, and it takes many years to feel confident as a parent. It makes it easier if we are kind to ourselves.
Sometimes being kind to ourselves means replacing a limiting and critical inner dialogue with a gentle and encouraging one. When things are tough with our children, it doesn’t help to be tough on ourselves. Being steadfast with ourselves means not underestimating our capacity. It is the circumstances of life with family that expand that capacity, that develop in us reserves of character we never thought possible. We learn how to handle difficult circumstances by handling them; we learn how to love by loving.
BE GENTLE ON YOURSELF
Being gentle on yourself means appreciating signs of overload in yourself not as signs of weakness, but as cries for help. When we are tired all the time, or easily angry, on the verge of tears, or afraid of everything, we need to rest. We cannot expect ourselves to make important decisions regarding our children when we are not at our best. Sometimes we don’t realize that the simple solutions of getting enough sleep, eating good food, and creating some unstructured time for relaxation can make most problems disappear.
Being gentle on yourself also means having the good sense to allow yourself to catch your breath and think something over. Trusting yourself means that you appreciate that you sometimes need more information. Making decisions on your own timing, even if it takes longer than you and others think it “should,” and having enough time for your mind to wander gives you the reflection that is needed for deep decision making.
It is easy to feel used up by parenting; tired and overwhelmed much of the time. It can seem impossible to take care of ourselves when we can barely take care of others, but it is worth the effort to continuously keep trying to figure out how to balance giving to others with taking care of ourselves.
ACCEPTING THINGS AS THEY ARE
One of the biggest challenges of living our personal values is the simple overload of daily life. Many days with children are simply out of control. When inconvenient, challenging, or downright bad things happen, that is where the gentle inner dialogue comes in. We can compound the bad situation by harshly judging ourselves or our loved ones, or we can “Roll with the punches” as my aunt used to say, “Flow with it” as the hippies used to say, or “Chill” as the new generation says. Just surrendering to things as they are does much to improve any day.
If we trust our child’s innate integrity, then we must trust our own. We heal and develop our capacity for self-trust as we allow our children to grow in an atmosphere of trust. The reasons we distrust ourselves are usually negative mental habits we learned from our own childhood or simply the lack of the right mental attitudes for tough times. Or just the inevitable overload.
Children are agents of change; their freshness and newness invigorate the culture. As parents, we have the opportunity to make the world a better place by modeling an authentic life for our children. We don’t have to perfect, however. We just have to be ourselves. This is our greatest security—and perhaps, our greatest challenge.
About Peggy O’Mara. I am an independent journalist who edits and publishes peggyomara.com. I was the editor and publisher of Mothering magazine for over 30 years. My books include Having a Baby Naturally, Natural Family Living, The Way Back Home and A Quiet Place. I have conducted workshops at Omega Institute, Esalen, La Leche League, Hollyhock and Bioneers. I am the mother of four and grandmother of three. Please sign up for my free newsletter with the latest posts on parenting, activism, and healthy living.